THE SHORTLIST FOR RTÉ Sports Person of the Year contains a host of athletes who excelled this year.
In another remarkable year for Jim Gavin and the Dublin Gaelic football team, Niall Kelly looks at the man who shone brightest in a team of stars.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
You’d have to presume that Brian Fenton starts his daily routine each morning by pinching himself to make sure that this is all real.
And once he’s assured himself of that much, it’s back to the relentless grind that has seen this young man from Raheny become one of the most important and influential players in Gaelic football today.
Lee Keegan was deservedly named Footballer of the Year after another outstanding campaign with Mayo which came up heartbreakingly short once again.
But few would have argued if Fenton had gotten the nod ahead of his Dublin team-mate Ciaran Kilkenny and Keegan; many, including the bookmakers, expected it.
The 23-year-old could hardly have dreamed of such a rapid rise when — after some inauspicious teenage years in which he couldn’t force his way into the county minor setup — he pulled on the blue jersey for the first time as an U21 in 2014.
His senior career is often reduced to a jaw-dropping stat line which shines a light on the dominance of Jim Gavin’s irrepressible Dublin team.
Twenty-four appearances since his first senior start in April 2015: 22 wins, two draws, no defeats and enough individual and team awards to worry even the most robust mantelpiece (two league titles, two Leinsters, two All-Stars, and two All-Irelands, the latter coming after the latest chapters in that simmering Dublin-Mayo rivalry).
But the numbers don’t even scratch the surface of what makes Fenton great. The beauty of Gavin’s Dublin is that nobody, perhaps with the exception of Stephen Cluxton, is indispensable.
But Fenton is surely one of the first names pencilled in on the week of a game.
At a time when possession has become more than nine-tenths of the law in Gaelic football, he is a magnet; hunting kickouts, breaking ball and opponents with an insatiable hunger, leaving some of the best eight and nines in the game trailing in his wake.
It’s his platform that, time and again, allows Dublin to do their thing with such ruthless efficiency — and stops the opposition from doing theirs.
A leader, a warrior, and a level-headed young man who knows that for all of his success so far, none of this can be taken for granted; that these glorious September Sundays (and occasionally October Saturdays) are hard-won and to be savoured.
For as long as he’s in Dublin’s engine room, they will be a force to be feared.
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