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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Brian Fenton caps off 'surreal' season with Sam

Raheny hero wins all major titles in first year with Dubs

Brian Fenton celebrates winning the All-Ireland in his first season as a member of the Dublin senior panel SPORTSFILE
Brian Fenton celebrates winning the All-Ireland in his first season as a member of the Dublin senior panel SPORTSFILE

The genesis of Brian Fenton's amazing year came late in spring.

April, to be more specific, and an away League match against Monaghan in Clones.

Dublin needed a result to guarantee a semi-final spot in the League.

Fenton made his first start and scored 1-1. Philly McMahon came off the bench to kick two points.

A little forewarning for what was to come, then.

"I remember meeting Jim that week and he told me that I was going to start and I was obviously delighted," Fenton recalls now.

"But I knew I had to put in a performance.

"It was late in the league, it was coming up to the Championship and I knew that my chance was there and I had to take it, that sort of way.

Nerves

"I went in playing half-forward and I was delighted to get on a bit of ball and the goal came early and that just settled any nerves that I had.

"It was an absolutely incredible performance up there by the lads, we knew we had to get a result up there, it was brilliant."

Quite what Fenton plans to do for an encore, he's not quite sure.

But he'll do to well top his debut season.

Ever.

Year One: Called up to senior panel. Win League. Win Leinster. Win All-Ireland.

Keep Michael Darragh Macauley - a recent Footballer of the Year - out of the team. Start in All-Ireland final.

Win Man of the Match.

Almost certainly, he'll win an All Star too.

Year Two?

"At the start of the year," he explains, "I would have been happy to just get onto the panel, making match day squads and to be there or thereabouts when it came down to the summer end of things.

"But to get into the team and to go where I've gone is just unbelievable."

Particularly when you consider the case of his club mate and former Raheny senior manager, Ciarán Whelan.

A fellow midfielder by trade, comparisons are inevitable.

But Whelan played for Dublin between 1996 and 2010 without even getting the opportunity to appear in an All-Ireland final.

Fenton's now one for one.

"Whelo was always an inspiration of mine," Fenton explains.

"All of us in the club looked up to him and he was definitely the king of Raheny for a long time.

"It was unfortunate - the stats came out during the week - that he never played in an All-Ireland final and obviously never won an All-Ireland which, for the player that he was, was mad.

Tragic

"But for me to come in, in my first year, play in an All-Ireland final and win it, it probably doesn't do justice for Ciarán but we'll take it anyway."

"There's a lot of lads that I would have played with and are unbelievable footballers but just things didn't go their way, like Ciarán, I suppose.

"He played for so long and was one of the best ever in the game and for him not to win an All-Ireland, or even get to a final, is just tragic really."

Vitally, Fenton's contribution to the Dublin team increased in direct correspondence to the elevation of the stakes and at a time when Macauley was making increasingly strong cases for inclusion.

In both the semi-final replay with Mayo and Sunday's All-Ireland final, his confident link play was crucial, though his goal taking clearly didn't blossom.

Against Mayo, his skewed shot gave Bernard Brogan the chance to net and had he hit the net, rather than the but of Brendan Kealy's post in the final after doing most of the rest of the hard work, Dublin wouldn't have had to grit their teeth quite so much in the fraught closing stages.

"I got a couple of chances over the last few games," Fenton smiles.

"I got a goal up in Clones and I thought it was all going well from there.

"I got a couple of chances over the last few days, couldn't take them but set up a few anyway.

"I was close enough (on Sunday) but I'll definitely need some work over the winter.

Inferior

Fenton's low profile may well have worked in Dublin's favour.

Against both Mayo and Kerry, it was confidently asserted that Dublin were inferior in midfield.

Against both, they played that particular battle on their terms and won.

"Yeah, absolutely, and it was nice, coming under the radar as a rookie in my first season, it was nice that people didn't expect too much of you, people didn't know you, so it was nice to get involved and put your name out there as saying, listen, we were never going to lie down to any team.

"The likes of the O'Sheas, Tom Parson, then the Kerry midfield obviously as well, it was a great challenge for us and something which I embraced.

"Thankfully we didn't let ourselves down.

"Working with Michael Darragh all year and Bastick was just incredible, for the younger lads like myself, Shane Carthy, Emmet Ó Conghaile, for us working with them and them teaching us so much has been unbelievable."

"Absolutely surreal to be honest. With the year I've had and especially to top it off, with winning the Sam Maguire, it's been absolutely unbelievable. It's been brilliant."

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