Saturday 24 June 2017

"I was thinking of my mam at the final whistle" - Brian Fenton recalls emotional moment

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
In his club Raheny, former Dublin player Ciaran Whelan was the man Brian looked up to
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

For such an accomplished swimmer it's no surprise than Brian Fenton has handled the deep end of inter-county football so smoothly in his debut season.

Fenton watched Dublin come unstuck against Donegal in 2014 from a vantage point on Hill 16 - more than 12 months on he was the majority nomination for man of the match in an All-Ireland final.

To say that's progress would be quite the understatement. But Fenton (22) just got better and better as the season went on, his lack of penetration on Dublin minor teams which kept him in the slipstream of All-Ireland winning midfielders like Emmet O Conghaile and Shane Carthy clearly not a handicap.

Jim Gavin's landmark success in 2015 has been to re-calibrate his defence so effectively, but the careful nurturing of Fenton into a prospective All Star ranks high up on the list of credits too.

"I always had that bit of self-belief. It was tough when I was 18, I didn't make minor panels," Fenton recalls.

"You would worry if you are not making them. 'Jesus, I might have missed the boat here, I might have missed my chance.' At the time you think minor panels are the be all and end all. I was unfortunate enough not to make it, but I knew I would come good some time.

Dylan Murphy (6) from Clondalkin celebrates after beating Bernard Brogan and Brian Fenton
Dylan Murphy (6) from Clondalkin celebrates after beating Bernard Brogan and Brian Fenton

"I'm so glad I got through a few injuries and just stuck at it."

Fenton's time growing up was divided between Gaelic football and swimming. His uncle, David Cummins, represented Ireland at the Moscow Olympics, and his cousins followed that tradition.

"We have a huge swimming history. I have three older sisters and I was just carted along with them," says Fenton.

"I swam up until about U-16 and was winning titles in Ireland, but when push came to shove and I had to make a decision it was football from there on."

Sigerson Cup football was his breeding ground. He studied physiotherapy at UCD - he's now working in Beaumont Hospital - and it was there that his game really thrived.

"Sigerson was such good exposure for me. I was going from not being on those minors panels to coming in with the club and meeting real good quality teams in the O'Byrne Cup, the likes of Kildare," he recalls.

Dublin players from left, Jack McCaffrey, Denis Bastick, Brian Fenton, Eric Lowndes, Bernard Brogan, Philip McMahon, Johnny Cooper and Nicky Devereux during a visit from the GAA Football All-Ireland Champions Dublin to Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Dublin players from left, Jack McCaffrey, Denis Bastick, Brian Fenton, Eric Lowndes, Bernard Brogan, Philip McMahon, Johnny Cooper and Nicky Devereux during a visit from the GAA Football All-Ireland Champions Dublin to Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Fenton was used sparingly for the first six games of the League but was then handed his first start against Monaghan in the last Division 1 group game and hasn't looked back since, starting 10 games in a row in League and Championship.

Like Cian O'Sullivan and the Brogans, he has Kerry lineage, his father Brian coming from Spa outside Killarney.

"He's always telling me what he's won down there, the O'Donoghue Cups (East Kerry Championships), they've very much sought after," he explains. "Having a Kerry dad, I am always down; he has a house there, it's a lovely place to go and lovely people.

"You meet great footballing minds and footballing people.

"Since I was very young the football has been the be-all-and-end-all. My mother wanted me to swim and Dad definitely got a hold of me and, being the Kerryman that he was, football was going to be the destination."

Fenton's mother Marian passed away two years ago so there were poignant moments at the end of Sunday's match. "It was an emotional time. I met Dad and my family at the final whistle, I was thinking of Mam, thinking of her always," he says

He also thought of Dave Billings, the former Dublin player, selector and head of Gaelic Games in UCD at the time of his passing last April.

Fenton wasn't a scholarship student but Billings still nurtured his talent with the same care and consideration. Billings' image hung on the Dublin dressing-room wall on Sunday and the 22-year-old found himself drawn to going over and touching it at one stage.

"He definitely looked after me in UCD. He'd always have that little bit of advice for you to add to your game," he says. "Dave was a true, true inspiration, along with Brian Mulllins, there in UCD as well. I couldn't speak highly enough of the lads."

In his club Raheny, former Dublin player Ciaran Whelan was the man he looked up to.

"Everyone in the club wanted to be 'Whelo' and for him to never play in a final and never win an All-Ireland is tragic really for the player that he was," he says. "So we won't take this for granted."

Irish Independent

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