It’s back. From being a regular column a few years ago, Forgotten Friday has made its return, this time in a sole GAA context. Every Friday we will bring back names that those of you may not remember too well. Players who had injury plagued careers, those who retired early or those who have simply been forgotten over time.
Our first forgotten player of this year is former Kilkenny hurler James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick. During his days, he was regarded as one of the country’s finest players, but as Kilkenny continued to win All-Ireland’s his name was no longer associated with them. Here is a reminder of the man known as Cha.
Cha Fitzpatrick was a big underage name in Kilkenny. The Ballyhale Shamrocks man was a graduate of St. Kieran’s College. Cha, along with Richie Power, was seen as the real future of Kilkenny hurling in the All-Ireland minor winning teams of 2002 and 2003. Those two were the driving forces behind those successes and people waited their arrival on the senior scene.
Fitzpatrick did not have to wait too long as he found himself on the Kilkenny senior side the following year. It took him time but he finally broke into the senior side at corner-forward and played in an All-Ireland senior final in 2004. Things did not go too well for Kilkenny or Fitzpatrick on that day, but better days would lie ahead.
2005 was another average to poor year for both parties but 2006 would be the start of something special. It was the year that Kilkenny would embark on a massive period of hurling dominance but it was also the making of James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick.
Brian Cody made a few changes to his side and one of the key moves was the shift of Fitzpatrick to midfield. He had spent most of his days as an inside forward but Cody recognised how the open spaces would suits Cha’s light stature and sublime skill.
He put in a brilliant performance in the 2006 All-Ireland final where he went toe-to-toe with Tom Kenny and Jerry O’Connor of Cork who had revolutionised midfield play. Kilkenny and Fitzpatrick had the last laugh as they halted Cork’s bid for three-in-a-row. Kilkenny’s dominance commenced and at the time, Fitzpatrick was seen as a vital cog.
He continued to have a good career but he did not progress at the same rate as Kilkenny and subsequently found himself left behind.
His highlight was still to come after 2006. It arrived in 2008 when he captained Kilkenny to win the All-Ireland. It was the milestone three-in-a-row that separates a great outfit from an awesome outfit and Fitzpatrick was an important member of hurling’s greatest team.
After that, momentum began to slow down and players such as Derek Lyng, Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice provided huge competition for midfield places and Cha often found himself outside of the top two.
His minutes on the pitch decreased and while he did secure further All-Ireland medals in 2009 and 2011, his influence was diminishing at an alarming rate.
He called a halt on his career at the end of the 2011 season at the age of 26.
In certain ways, it was a mind boggling move. Any county in Ireland would have been delighted to secure his services, yet the Kilkenny conveyor belt moved too quickly for him. Cody moved on, and Cha was left in the lurch.
While his intercounty career was over, he still finished up with five All-Ireland medals. He may be a forgotten man to many people, and this column simply wants to highlight what was a great career although it may have finished up quite early.