The 29-year-old was not a St Vincent’s player the last time they reached, and won, club football’s showpiece in 2008.
But after a messy transfer saga from O’Toole’s in ‘09, he is very much a Marino man now and will be key to their All-Ireland bid in four weeks following Saturday’s semi-final victory over Ballinderry.
“I wanted this so badly and to be in it, in the final, I am lost for words. It’s everything I wanted.
“It is the stuff dreams are made of. I’ve had a lot of support and I want to thank everybody who helped me get here.”
Fennell won an All-Ireland with Dublin in 2011 but was not part of Jim Gavin’s plans last year and there is a sense this All-Ireland Club SFC final has come around at an opportune time for him.
“When you start kicking a ball against the wall you dream of Croker and I love playing there. To go back there is really exciting for me. It’ll be a great four weeks preparing for it.”
Two early goals from Tomás Quinn and Ciarán Dorney inside 11 minutes for St Vincent’s, who had chosen to play against the wind in the first-half, were the platform for their victory in Newry.
Ulster champions Ballinderry fought their way back into the game by half-time, trailing by just a point at 2-4 to 0-9. But St Vincent’s were composed front-runners and always managed to stay ahead, even when a Daniel McKinless goal in the 48th minute threatened the Dublin champions again.
“I suppose we needed the early goals because we started a bit soft in the last few games and getting a good start was crucial,” said Fennell.
“Fair play to the lads, they got their opportunities and they took them. It wasn’t always one of our strengths to finish teams off and when they came back into it, like we knew they would, we held the fortress well.”
Another of Dublin’s forgotten men, Mossy Quinn, will also be returning to the scene of many of his former triumphs.
He kicked 1-8 in a man-of-the-match performance in Páirc Esler, his seventh minute goal through a crowded square setting the tone in front of an attendance of 4,331.
Ballinderry’s decision to go man-to-man was an admirable tactic, all too rare on the modern-day football field. But it left huge gaps in their defence which led to the early goals and the damage could have been worse only for a superb save by Mickey Conlan to deny Dorney.
Quinn revelled in the space.
“It is a little bit (of a rarity). Teams generally drop men back or there is a little bit of protection, but they (Ballinderry) are a good team and they obviously back themselves. We back ourselves too. It’s a great challenge. If you go out and shake your man’s hand you know it’s you against him. They play a nice style of football and as a forward you take that as a challenge and see if you can come out on top.”
Quinn has the experience of 2008 to know that it will be difficult for the St Vincent’s players to stay focused while all of Marino gets ready for a four-week party.
He admitted: “the cliché is that it’s just another game but it’s not another game and there are things going on outside of your control in terms of what the club do. As players we cannot get caught up in that. It’s brilliant for everyone else, but we will get back training tomorrow and we’ll have our training plan for next week.
“It is a challenge because every club footballer’s dream is to play in Croke Park on Paddy’s Day but if you let yourself spend two weeks thinking ‘Jesus, it’s great we’re here’ then you’ll lose focus.”
Ballinderry regrouped well after conceding two early goals and held their opponents scoreless for the next 13 minutes. During that time, they scored three points from Ryan Bell, James Conway and Colin Devlin.
Devlin had a fine first half, hitting 0-4 from play. After a quiet first-half, Diarmuid Connolly came to life with two quick-fire points as St Vincent’s scored four points in the first seven minutes after the break to stretch their lead out to six points again. But for the second time in the game, Ballinderry fought back through a Daniel McKinless goal after 48 minutes. The closest the 2002 All-Ireland champions got, however, was to within two points of Vincent’s, who didn’t panic when the pressure was applied and Quinn’s frees and points from Connolly and Dorney set up a decider against Castlebar.
There was not a flicker of emotion on Quinn’s face when informed by reporters that favourites Dr Crokes had been beaten by the Mayo side.
“There you are, it just shows you that we need to get ready,” he warned. “We can’t spend a week in party mode with everyone else.”
Scorers for Ballinderry: C Devlin 0-5 (1f), D McKinless 1-0, C Gilligan 0-2 (1f), R Bell 0-2, A Devlin 0-2, J Conway, R Wilson 0-1 each.
Scorers for St Vincent’s: T Quinn 1-8 (5f, 1,45,), C Dorney 1-1, D Connolly 0-3, S Carthy, G Burke 0-1 each.
BALLINDERRY: M Conlan; G McKinless, C Nevin, K McGuckin; R Wilson, D Lawn, R Scott; E Muldoon, J Conway; C Devlin, M McIver, D McGuckin; D McKinless, R Bell, C Gilligan.
Subs: A Devlin for Scott (16), M Harney for McIver (42).
ST VINCENT’S: M Savage; K Bonnie, J Curley, H Gill; C Diamond, B Egan, M Concarr; D Murphy, E Fennell; G Burke, T Diamond, S Carthy; D Connolly, C Dorney, T Quinn.
Subs: K Golden for T Diamond (58), N Mullins for Carthy (60), A Baxter for Dorney (60).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).