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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 17 August, 2019
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'Every time I put on the jersey I'm living the dream, I'm like a child putting it on' - Fenton

The Dublin midfielder opens up on his remarkable rise, idolising Ciaran Whelan and the challenge of breaking down Westmeath.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A BEAMING BRIAN Fenton sits his 6ft 4″ frame down and asks the media scrum to go easy on him. He is, after all, new to this.

It was a timely reminder from the 23-year-old. It’s easy to forget how rapid his rise has been.

His seamless transition into the Dublin machine, despite offering different attributes to the midfield establishment of Denis Bastick and Michael Darragh Macauley, is easily forgotten because he has already achieved so much.

Just 18 months ago Fenton was chasing the source of what he thought was a prank call, having been asked to join the Dublin panel by manager Jim Gavin.

While his inter-county career may be in its infancy, the qualified physiotherapist has achieved more than many elder statesmen of the game can only dream of — an All-Ireland title, an All-Star, man of the match in the Croke Park showpiece, and two national league titles.

Second-season syndrome is always a concern after a breakthrough campaign. But in Fenton’s case, he has continued where he left off last year. Bar an early-season shoulder injury, his second season has been going swimmingly, and feels exactly like his first.

“It’s definitely the same buzz as last year,” Fenton says.

“The lads have really come together in the last few weeks of the league and there’s a great buzz around the place.

Every time I put on the jersey I’m living the dream really, I’m like a child putting it on. But I have to put that to one side and perform.

He may be settled in the Dublin side but Fenton admits his supersonic rise to prominence is still sinking in.

“From the All-Ireland final onwards, you’re seeing pictures of yourself in the paper and you’re wondering, ‘did that actually happen?’

“But from January to September you’re in that bubble and you can’t take your eye off the ball.”

Fenton’s athleticism and direct foot-passing to the inside forwards have added to Dublin’s arsenal and he has more than held his own against some of the best midfielders in the country.

He is already seen as a vital cog in the Dublin side and is now arguably the first-choice midfielder for the All-Ireland champions, prompting some to suggest he deserves special attention from the opposition, which catches him by surprise.

“I wasn’t aware I was a marked man,” Fenton replies with a grin.

“I think last year I probably came in under the radar a bit and nobody knew me or expected much of me or anything like that.

“Against Kerry (in last year’s All-Ireland final), things just seemed to happen for me on the day. Things were going well, my kick-passes were hitting the target and the scores were going over. But it might go the other way on another day.”

As a midfielder from Raheny, Fenton had an obvious childhood idol in former Dublin fan-favourite Ciaran Whelan.

Ciaran Whelan Former Dublin midfielder Ciaran Whelan. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The timing of Whelan’s inter-county career was rather cruel, missing Dublin’s 1995 All-Ireland win by one year and retiring two years before the Dubs’ next success, in 2011.

So for all the things Fenton and Whelan have in common, their inter-county careers couldn’t be more different, a subject the two are yet to broach.

“We haven’t talked about that. I don’t know what he’d say to me.

“You are looking at Ciaran and he was the best midfielder at the time. Himself and Darragh Ó Sé had some battles at Croke Park.

To think back and say that man doesn’t have an All-Ireland is tragic. Everybody would wish he had one.

“He has a couple of All-Stars but I’d say if you asked Ciaran what he’d prefer he’d say an All-Ireland medal. So it’s a tough thing. I won’t take it for granted, I’m very lucky to have an All-Ireland medal in my pocket.”

Whelan, like many footballers over the years, has left a legacy on Gaelic football in the capital, irrespective of his failure to get his hands on Sam. His fluttering white gloves were adored across the county, no more so than in the northside suburb of Raheny.

“We always tried to be like Ciaran when we were younger,” Fenton recalls.

“He was iconic. I used to watch him playing when I was younger with my parents and as I got older I stood on the Hill and ‘Whelo’ was the man.

“He was such a dominant force at midfield so I was just lucky he was from my club.” 

GAA/GPA Agree Renewed Partnership with Best Menswear Brian Fenton at the recent announcement of a partnership between the GAA, GPA and Best Menswear. Source: SPORTSFILE

These days youngsters in the capital are leaping for ball with Fenton’s name on their minds and all going well, he will play in his second Leinster final on Sunday at GAA HQ. Once again the Lakesiders are coming to town.

Westmeath set up a defensive wall in Dublin 3 last year, attempting to frustrate the Dubs and limit the damage.

They were only four points down at the break but two goals in one second-half minute, from Bernard Brogan and the since departed Jack McCaffrey, killed any hopes of a smash-and-grab from the underdogs and the Dubs cruised to a 13-point victory.

The game is remembered with apathy by most, with Westmeath’s cautious approach the primary target for criticism.

Fenton highlights the likes of John Heslin and Paul Sharry as players with potential to cause the Dubs problems, but he is expecting Westmeath to adopt a similar approach on Sunday (4pm throw-in), in what is the county’s first time in successive provincial finals.

“Last year was a huge challenge for us to break them down and I’m sure it will be on Sunday again,” Fenton explains.

Watching the Dubs try to break down mass defences with 13 or 14 bodies behind the ball may not be pleasing on the eye but the Raheny midfielder enjoys the challenge of picking the lock.

It’s just as well, one suspects he’ll be getting plenty of practice.

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About the author:

Alan Waldron

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