PWC ALL-STAR Footballer of the Year Brian Fenton admits that tonight’s award is a dream come true, but not something he set out to achieve when he sat down at the start of the year to script his goals for the 2018 season.
The 25-year-old Dublin midfielder beat out inter-county team-mates Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey on his way to being named the country’s best footballer this year, describing that particular aspect as “bittersweet” having recently discovered a picture of the three of them playing together for a North Dublin development squad at U12s.
The Raheny man revealed that celebrations in the Fenton household kicked off to the point that they frightened the dog when he told his family of his achievement, and paid tribute to his late mother, Marian, whom he attributed with inspiring not only him, but his father and three sisters.
“At the start of the year you don’t sit down and write in your own diary, ‘I’m going to win Player of the Year’ — certainly not,” Fenton said. “But it is one of those awards that you dream of as a kid and dream of as you grow up.
You can see the stars, the names through history, that are winning the awards along the way. I recently went back through the list of the years of players who had won Player of the Year and the talent and the pure magic in that list alone was something very, very special.
“So, yeah, it’s something that you would have dreamed of as a kid so to win one and be picked amongst my peers as well is just so humbling and special and something I’ll never forget for a long, long time.”
Brian Fenton and Sarah Kelliher at tonight’s PwC All-Star Awards
Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
Fenton was quick to pay dues to fellow nominees Kilkenny and McCaffrey — the latter who was named man of the match in both the All-Ireland semi-final and final, the former who became the Dubs’ standard-bearer for the year, per Fenton — but the overall winner had a momentous season in his own right.
Fenton set a new record for the most a midfielder has ever scored from play during a championship campaign, notching 1-13 as Jim Gavin’s Dublin took Sam Maguire down the Liffey for the fourth year on the spin.
He learned of this fact only midweek, and claims he wasn’t keeping a tally during his own historic season.
“I did hear that during the week,” Fenton said of his record haul. “It’s amazing — I wouldn’t have been aware of that at all. You always just sit down and look at areas where you can improve, and every hurler and footballer is the same and every child growing up is the same.
“You want to get better on your weak foot or weak hand. I watched back games I played last year and there were probably opportunities where I could have taken a shot. Not in a selfish way, but the shot was on.
“That’s something that I tried to work on in the off-season and carry through to the summer.
“Luckily, yeah, 1-13, I wasn’t counting, but it’s a nice little record to have.”
Fenton on the burst against Donegal
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Record-breaker or not, though, Fenton was at pains to make light of comparisons between himself and legendary Kerry midfielder Jack O’Shea.
Indeed, even if he was to give it any consideration, he says his father, Brian Sr — a Kerryman himself — wouldn’t be long dragging him back to Earth.
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“Yeah, I’m constantly reminded that I wouldn’t lace Jacko’s boots! That’s what I’m told at the dinner-table, anyway,” Fenton said.
Ah look, I remember standing outside Jimmy O’Brien’s bar years ago before a Munster Final and Jacko walked by and I just thought he was floating on air. I obviously never saw him play but he was always the gold standard and benchmark and historically the best footballer and midfielder of all time. To even be in the same sentence as him is just very, very incredible.
“Look, I’m still young and I’m still passionate and hungry for more. I’m not going to put the feet up yet and I’m not going to sit up on the high stool just yet. I’m going to drive it on for next year and hopefully set another level for myself.”
Brian Fenton is given a drawing by Dubs fan Zoe Lonergan at Crumlin Children’s Hospital
Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
Fenton, who was recently “down in Killarney for a couple of pints” and still frequents The Kingdom to see extended family, said “there were tears and hugs and just joyous scenes in the house” when he told his immediate family of his Footballer of the Year win. The dog, he said, “didn’t know what was going on!”
But his mother, Marian, who passed away in 2013, quickly came to mind, too. His biggest fan will be chuffed today, he says.
Mam is always remembered. She’s always the inspiration that drives me on and the family on. For her not to be here is, again, bittersweet. But, no doubt, she’s my number one supporter always and she’ll be proud today, yeah.
Fenton, an Irish swimming champion in his youth, attributes at least partially both his athletic ability and competitive edge to his mother.
“I wasn’t allowed to sit at home in front of the Playstation anyway!” he says. “I was always out and about and kicking ball and doing different things. I was even thrown into Irish dancing under her watch at one stage.
Yeah, look, we’re a family of go-getters and always active and that’s what I’d recommend any child to do. To just get out and get active. The skills you learn from playing all sorts of sports I suppose accumulated into this award for me, in a way.
Fenton scores a point against Tyrone
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Another recommendation from the best footballer in the country is to put goals and aims in writing, something he does himself regularly.
“Oh yeah, always. It’s regular. Weekly and monthly and yearly. Just little notes in the diary. I’d say if anyone read it now it would be gibberish, like Leonardo da Vinci backwards writing!
“It’s just little goals and plans and to-do lists, but it’s always football-focused. You know, ‘what am I going to do this week for my skills? What am I going to do this week for my recovery?’
And, you know, bigger goals. At the start of the year you might say, look, you want to start and improve and to have an impact on a game, to hit a certain distance in a game. Things that are measurable that you can tick off or ‘x’ off. Unfortunately there are more ‘x’s than ticks, but you have to always set a benchmark for yourself, I think.
The 2018 Footballer of the Year, who has never lost a championship match with his county — “Jesus, it’s almost a burden at this stage,” he says — still has a bit of time to enjoy himself before he puts pen to paper ahead of a season in which Dublin will pursue their own record: five All-Irelands in a row.
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