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Fenton is missing 'amazing' friends

Absence makes the heart grow fonder for midfielder

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CATCHING UP: Brian Fenton has used the break from play to watch old Dublin classics from the 1970s. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

CATCHING UP: Brian Fenton has used the break from play to watch old Dublin classics from the 1970s. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

CATCHING UP: Brian Fenton has used the break from play to watch old Dublin classics from the 1970s. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Fenton received a text from his father instructing him to switch on his television.

TG4 were showing the 1994 Ulster quarter-final between Derry and Down in Celtic Park, as part of their GAA Gold series.

Brian Fenton senior, a Kerryman, was adamant that his son tune in.

The text said: 'TG4 now. Derry and Down. Anthony Tohill. Watch and learn.'

The days are long just now and Fenton, like all of us, is eager to spend as much of each one being as productive as he possibly can.

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CLEAN CATCH: Dublin’s Brian Fenton catches a kick-out over Mayo’s Séamus O’Shea during last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

CLEAN CATCH: Dublin’s Brian Fenton catches a kick-out over Mayo’s Séamus O’Shea during last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

CLEAN CATCH: Dublin’s Brian Fenton catches a kick-out over Mayo’s Séamus O’Shea during last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Training. Studying. Working from home.

It's not that he has surplus time on his hands.

It's just that the seconds tick by more slowly when you're not doing the things that bring you joy.

Football. Socialising.

Walking his dog in St Anne's Park. Taking in a match. Killing the days between training in the company of friends.

Tedious

The mundanity of lockdown isn't any less tedious just because you've five All-Ireland medals.

And the prospect of a lost summer is possibly more horrifying when you've had summers like Fenton's last five.

For all that, Fenton insists, he has remained positive.

"I haven't been down in the dumps," he insists, and there's probably good reason for that.

Perspective is close to hand.

Fenton's girlfriend Sarah is a doctor in the Mater Hospital, a member of their infectious diseases team.

Hitting weekly training targets and studying for a masters are the lesser of their household worries.

"You are sort of trusting that she will be lucky," he admits.

"You are trusting that everyone in the hospital is obliged to stick to the protocols.

"They have their own protocols in place where they don't wear the same clothes to and from the hospital.

"So, we have been lucky. I have been lucky so far. None of us have had any symptoms."

This week was a big one on the arid inter-county landscape, with confirmation at least that whatever happens this year, it won't be happening before October.

As such, things have cooled with Dublin.

A weekly call with management has become a bi-weekly call.

The squad have had online quizzes and cook-offs but essentially, they're left now to their own devices and personal training programmes until such time as they're permitted to be in one another's company again.

And that, Fenton admits, has prompted the clearest realistion he has had these past few weeks.

Rather than reflecting on what he has achieved in a phenomenal five years since his elevation to Dublin seniordom, Fenton has an enhanced appreciation for the value of being part of that squad.

"Maybe I just took things for granted," he admits, "thinking 'aw, I'm always going to be with these lads, I'll always see Stephen Cluxton, Ciarán Kilkenny and James McCarthy on a Tuesday and a Thursday'.

"Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder, that sort of craic.

"How lucky you are to be part of that group and be friends with amazing people.

"I haven't really thought about history or anything or what we have achieved. I don't know if it's really sunk in."

Still, you'd venture Fenton's underlying optimism has never been a more useful character trait than it is just now.

Like everyone with a vested interest in sport, Fenton has had to adjust his expectations.

As the weeks have lapsed, as our knowledge of the scope of the virus has broadened, the questions have changed.

It's no longer simply, 'when will we get sport back?'.

Now it's 'in what guise will we get it back?' In sporting terms, the 'new normal' has chilling connotations.

Fenton has been pragmatic through it all.

"They cancelled the Olympics this year," he recalls.

"They're cancelling all these big sporting events and you're looking at it saying 'how can the GAA be the exception?'

"I know there is a bit of confusion and people were coming out during the week.

"But what can they do, only base it off the guidelines?

"It's easy to say they should give us guidance. As a player, of course you would love that. It's on or it's off. 'Be ready for this date'.

"But nobody is in a position to give that information."

Nor is anyone issuing a behind-closed-doors/not at all ultimatum just yet.

October is still sufficiently far away that we can justifiably hope people will be permitted to attend matches by then.

Already, sporting events are beginning to sprout up again, albeit none of them yet in Ireland and all will be played for the foreseeable to the sound of echoes reverberating around empty stadiums.

There's no clarity. But there remains hope, even if Fenton acknowledges that any All-Ireland played in front of empty stands would prove a greatly diminished experience for everyone involved.

"I play Gaelic football to hear that roar, to play in front of Hill 16, to play in front of my family and club mates and Dublin fans," Fenton acknowledges.

"It would be funny, it would be certainly difficult."

"At the very start of this, Manchester United were playing in the Europa League and there was babies crying in the stand.

Interest

"I think they let about 100 people into it and it just took from the game, I felt.

"I was watching it at the very start of all this coronavirus so I don't know would it sell to players. I don't know.

"Obviously players have to play, don't get me wrong, but I don't know if there would be the same interest if we were being told it was going to be behind closed doors."

Until then, there's exams and assignments and watching All-Ireland Gold to be getting on with.

It is a notable feature of the current Dublin team that they still speak about previous Dublin teams, men who they have long surpassed in terms of medal, in reverential terms.

Almost uniformly, they are appreciative of what they achieved - even if Fenton is only now catching up on how they achieved it.

"I watched a couple of the '70s games," he says.

"You had the likes of John McCarthy, James' dad, playing in corner-forward whereas James was wing-back.

"Similarly, with Dean; Barney Rock has these incredibly big hands. I assumed he was a midfielder or a centre-forward!

"I assumed he was a big man around the middle but it turns out he was a wing forward and a corner forward.

"But, there was a lot of, 'Jesus, if I did some of those things they were doing under Jim or Dessie we would be absolutely crucified for it!

"Some of the defensive tactics was just if it fell to you, just to hoof it out.

"It is really funny how the game has developed and what we do now."

"I was watching Brian Mullins in a couple of the games and how different his role as a midfielder was. It was really interesting.

"I wonder will I look back at our games in 30 or 40 years and think something similar."

"But I was just watching those games with great admiration," Fenton adds. "And learning little bits about everyone."

* The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and the Women's Gaelic Players Association (WGPA) have partnered with Pieta, the mental health charity that provides free counselling nationwide to those experiencing suicidal ideation or self-harm, to promote a new 'mental fitness' campaign, R.E.S.T.

The campaign invites the GAA community, and the general public to look after their mental fitness during the Covid19 restrictions when all sporting activity has been put on hold.

There will also be a fundraising element to the initiative, encouraging people to donate to Pieta's Darkness Into Light Sunrise* appeal, proudly sponsored by Electric Ireland, on Saturday, 9th May.