'These are days you hope and pray for' - Eamon Fennell
Former O'Tooles man Fennell puts Dubs on back-burner as he dreams of Vins glory
PLAYING in an All-Ireland club semi-final is a big day in anyone's calendar, but for St Vincent's midfielder Eamon Fennell, it holds a special significance.
Ahead of their clash with Ulster champions Ballinderry on Saturday, the story of his switch of allegiance is well told by now. In a county that is more transfer friendly than most, his move from O'Tooles to St Vincent's garnered a surprising amount of attention.
It was easy to see both sides of the argument: O'Tooles insisted on keeping their county man, while Fennell wanted to play at a club that, in his eyes, put football first. Still, it was messier than it should ever have been.
After a couple of botched attempts, a last-minute intervention from then county chairman Gerry Harrington – despite the executive recommending that the transfer go through – and a year's suspension, Fennell, eventually, joined St Vincent's.
And it was with days like Saturday's semi-final in mind that when things got difficult for him, he resolved to push through the transfer.
"It was really tough at the time," he recalls. "Even when I got suspended in 2009 for the year, it is these things (Saturday's semi-final) you sort of hope and pray for and dream about. I have been very lucky to get a Dublin championship and a Leinster championship."
It's hardly been all golden since the switch. Injuries came and his form suffered and he didn't make much impact at Vincent's. Now though, he feels embedded in Marino, even if he still gets the odd barb.
"I get it said the odd time and there are always people that are going to chirp in now and again with a stupid remark. I do hate it because things didn't go the way I would have liked in O'Tooles," he says.
"My mam is from Scotland, she moved to Marino; my grandad played for Vincent's; my mam is head of the Marino Credit Union for years – there are strong connections with Marino, so I have got that bond there with the area anyway. People can say what they want to me about it, but it's not really an issue.
"I knew what I wanted to do, and I know the response I've got from the people in Marino, so that's all I care about."
Dublin remained a constant throughout the turmoil, but he hasn't had a look-in of late with no little irony in the fact that Fennell is playing better at club level now than he ever did when he was in the Dublin shake-up.
However when Jim Gavin came in, Fennell went from being in the shake-up to being outside the extended panel, a dramatic fall by any standards. Gavin, it seems, just didn't fancy Fennell and even if he helps the Marino men into an All-Ireland club final, Fennell isn't holding out much hope of a recall.
"I've seen him out once or twice when I met up with the lads after championship games last year, but there was no talk of anything like that and I wouldn't like to get involved with that kind of stuff at the moment either, because I think it would just take away from my mindset," he says.
At 29, Fennell isn't the right age profile for a recall, while he's among the growing number of top-level footballers to have seen serious injury.
"I've had the hip operation and I've torn my hamstring. I had to get the PRP injection into my hamstring where my hamstring is dead, and now my ankle might need a bit of looking at as well.
"I love to challenge myself; I try and do as much as is possible within my limitations.
"I've obviously been through a few operations now and it takes its toll on your body, but again you don't know until you're fully in there what you can and can't do."
You get the impression he would like another chance, but you also sense that if his most significant contribution to Dublin football is to be winning that throw-up against Kieran Donaghy that led to Stephen Cluxton's point in the 2011 final, then that will do too. Any thoughts of Dublin can wait. For now, a big day out with Vincent's is reward enough.
"Being away from the Dublin camp allowed me to focus a bit more with the club, and it was great for me to fully experience everything that goes on in the club and to try and get involved a bit more and get to know the people," he says.
"And that's what I've done and it's been great, because once you're winning you always have that bit of buzz around the club and the atmosphere is there and the people around are a bit more supportive now. So it's great and I think it has all been worth it."