Tuesday 27 September 2016

When Jim Gavin rang I thought it was a prank call - Brian Fenton

Published 14/07/2016 | 02:30

Dublin’s Brian Fenton at the recent announcement of the GAA/GPA’s continuing partnership with Best Menswear. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Brian Fenton at the recent announcement of the GAA/GPA’s continuing partnership with Best Menswear. Photo: Sportsfile

It was way back in January of last year but Brian Fenton can still see the phone buzzing in his hand.

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He answered an unfamiliar number but heard a familiar voice offering an invitation to train with the Dublin seniors. He wasn't to know it but everything changed for him in that moment.

"When Jim gave me the phone call I actually thought it was a prank call to be honest. I text around asking lads, 'Do you know this number?'"

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After he confirmed it wasn't a ruse, Fenton remembers the excitement. But his initial thoughts weren't of getting in the team or winning All-Irelands.

Instead his thinking was more long term. He resolved to take the chance to get stronger and improve with a view to perhaps one day getting his chance. That day came much sooner than he thought.

"Getting called in, just to make the championship squad, that was the goal," he remembers.

"And if I could develop myself physically, get in the gym and get myself in good shape, that was the goal. That and to last the year.

"Then things went well. You are getting thrown on in league games down in Cork and you get your first start up in Clones and I got a goal in the first five or six minutes.

"I haven't scored a goal since, probably won't again. Things happen like that," he smiles.

Progress

By the time the All-Ireland final rolled around, his progress has seen former Footballer of the Year Michael Darragh Macauley relegated to the bench as Fenton and Denis Bastick were Dublin's first-choice midfield pairing. Fenton was superb in the final and claimed the man of the match award.

And in one season he had managed to secure a Celtic Cross, something that eluded his Raheny clubmate and idol Ciaran Whelan.

"You were 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. I won't take it for granted."

It was quite the journey to the top. Just a year earlier he had watched Dublin fall to Donegal from the Hill. And he admits it still hasn't all sunk 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 I suppose from January to September you're in that bubble and you can't take your eye off the ball really.

"You can't take a chance with things and think I'm playing a Leinster final or I'm playing a league final, you have to keep going with the flow and keep working harder.

"Like I say, you're always looking to perform on the pitch. So I think it was definitely after the All-Ireland when I started looking back and thinking how special it was.

"You know the buzz with the lads afterwards and the celebrations of an All-Ireland final were something I had never experienced. So looking back around then. It hasn't probably fully sunk in but it."

There was shoulder surgery earlier this year that ruled him out of the early part of the league but Fenton has picked up from where he left off with Macauley and Bastick fighting it out to start in the Dublin engine room beside him.

There's room for improvement. Some of his Dublin team-mates tease him now about being "too small up top" when it comes to the gym work.

And this year, after going toe to toe with some of the best midfielders around in 2015 including David Moran in the All-Ireland final, he knows the opposition will be much more prepared to counter what he can bring.

"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. I suppose some of my performances went well. I don't know if I'm a marked man. I take every game as it comes. Well, that's what I do anyway.

"You still need to perform and keep kicking on and all that sort of stuff. David Moran, for me, is one of the best players in the game.

"I saw him play an All-Ireland semi-final (two) years ago now against Mayo down in Limerick and he put on an absolute display that day," Fenton adds.

"And you'd be looking at these players and you're sort of in awe of them really and you try and take bits from them.

"Against Kerry, 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.

"So yeah, I was lucky in one way. But if I'm a marked man this year you just sort of take every game as it comes."

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