Accepting a short kick-out from Michael Savage against Cork at Croke Park last March, his first game back after shoulder surgery, a simple kick pass forward was the obvious move for the midfielder. But with Dublin under a Rebel siege — Cork led 1-4 to 0-0 early on — and Fenton lacking match sharpness, he fluffed his kick to an opponent and Cork scored again. At half-time he was taken off.
Seven months on, the Raheny man is a nominee for Footballer of the Year and a back to back All-Ireland medallist. Remarkably, he has yet to lose a championship game with Dublin though nights like that one in spring were important reference points.
“I was having an absolute stinker,” said Fenton. “That was definitely a wake-up call, I needed to get my sharpness up and my fitness after the surgery. I knew then if I wanted this year to be in any way as good as last year I needed to pull my socks up.”
The performance didn’t help alleviate Fenton’s private concerns he might find it hard to replicate his strong form of 2015 when he came from nowhere to snatch an All Star.
“I’d meet people in the club, people who would know football, and they’d say, ‘you came in last year under the radar, nobody knew you but this year you are going to be a marked man, people are going to know you and they are going to have watched your clips on tape’,” said Fenton.
“I knew that and that was a big fear of mine, having that extra attention, maybe not getting as many possessions or as many kick passes or scores in a game, or being dominated by an opponent.”
It all worked out okay of course and the nephew of 1980 Olympic swimmer David Cummins proved he was no flash in the pan with strong and consistent Championship form. In the end, he was an obvious contender for Player of the Year. “I remember last year talking with close friends in the club and they’d be saying, ‘things couldn’t have gone better for you in 2015’. I used to turn around jokingly and say, ‘ah sure look, I’ll push for Player of the Year next year’. That was just miles off my radar I’d actually joke about it. It wasn’t a realistic option to me at all.”
* Brian Fenton has been named as the Gaelic Writers Association 2016 Football Personality of the Year.