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“Those three are just warriors. They’re animals. And they love it…” Brian Fenton on returning trio

“Those three are just warriors. They’re animals. And they love it…” Brian Fenton on returning trio

Wed, 17th April 2024

By Paul Keane 

When Stephen Cluxton and Michael Fitzsimons lined out against Meath last weekend, they became the 52nd and 53rd players to feature competitively for Dublin this year.

James McCarthy came on during the Leinster SFC quarter-final win too and Brian Fenton had a good view of it all, glued as he was to the TV from the comfort of his sitting room.

Fenton's absence we'll get back to but the longevity and effervescence of the other trio, Cluxton, Fitzsimons and McCarthy, the only three players in the history of the game to win nine All-Ireland senior medals, deserves to be lauded.

They are a combined age of 111, have 27 All-Ireland medals between them and 15 All-Stars. But here they are, still prepared to line up at the Championship's front row for take off. Truth be told, Fenton suspected over winter they may walk away.

"Yeah, I probably did," said Fenton at an event organised by Staycity Aparthotels who are supporting Dublin GAA in all four codes for the next five years. "I was believing the general media consensus, or the general Irish consensus even, that they would. But it was never confirmed either. Look, you wouldn't blame them obviously, having got to the nine milestone or whatever.

"But then when they come back it kind of serves as a reminder, and I've said this over the years, that we are getting the right people in the room again, the core playing group.

"You are saying, 'Yeah, we could be in the mix again this year'. It just serves as a confidence booster in many ways.

"But yeah, I was surprised. Mick Fitz, for example, with his career, he could easily have stepped aside and similarly with Stephen, with his age, he'll kill me for saying that, and James as well, having his first kid.

"They all have personal reasons that they could use if they were putting out retirement statements, to kind of step aside. It's great and we are lucky to have them."

For Fenton, the trio of nine-time medal winners all have one thing in common, an insatiable hunger for success. He shares it himself and he sees that appetite throughout the entire group.

"They are all different of course but very much the same too, in terms of being personally motivated to be the best," said Fenton, who has seven of his own All-Ireland medals tucked away. "And winning helps. And when you get a taste for it, it's hard to let go of it, particularly last year with the way we won and how proud we were to win last year, I think it's hard to step aside.

"Obviously it comes down to motivation. And everyone has their own individual motivations, but those three are just warriors, they are just animals, and they love it.

"And again, when you step back from it, there's a bigger picture, Shane O'Hanlon passing away, I know it has served as a huge motivator for a lot of us in the group.

"Different things like that just add to the overall feeling."

Fenton, 31 now, joked that he got his own little 'window into retirement' when forced to sit out last weekend's 16-point provincial championship defeat of Meath. A red card picked up in the National League final against Derry was accompanied by a one-match ban.

"The dog got plenty of walks," he smiled, referencing the unexpected time off he was afforded. "But it was grand, all things considered. I trained all week with the lads. You try to add a bit of value and you try to chat to the lads who are named to play. You do your homework on Meath, on their 'keeper and their kick-outs and their movement and everything like that. You're trying to just have those conversations with the lads and to be a good team-mate.

"Matchday was different. I was humming and hawing about whether to go into the match or not but I didn't. I watched it from home.

"It's mad, it's probably like a window into retirement in many ways. You're thinking, 'Right, this is what it's all about, I used to be out there', that kind of stuff. When I retire, I'll definitely go to Hill 16 I'd say. But yeah, it was weird.

"You watch the game in a very analytical kind of way. It's like reviewing a match afterwards. We don't watch it to enjoy it, we watch it to analyse it and break it down tactically. You're watching how things are going for us and for your opponents, kick-outs and all that kind of stuff."

Fenton isn't interested in any more glimpses of retirement, not for the foreseeable. He had figured that after a decade in blue, where he's pretty much at right now, that he'd take stock and reassess but he feels as good to go as ever.

"When I started, I thought 'Wouldn't it be amazing to get 10 seasons'," said Fenton. "So we are here now and then you are kind of like, 'Okay, that's done, what's next?' I suppose Sunday gave a taste of what it could be like, with the suspension. It's definitely a privilege to be a part of it, so that plays on your mind too.

"It's very much play away and see how I am getting on and if I am starting and enjoying it, that will probably always be the first thing, the priority on my list."

With a return to Croke Park on Sunday to face Offaly in a Leinster SFC semi-final on the horizon and, hopefully, a long summer of Championship activity, Fenton feels energised. Offaly, Derry, Kerry, Mayo, the list of those who would happily strip Dublin of their titles is lengthy.

"The chat has quietened a lot on Kerry and that's dangerous, I think it's dangerous to downplay Kerry," said Fenton. "They're an incredible team. Similarly with Mayo, we can never seem to get away from Mayo as well. There's loads of good teams out there and Derry are right up there, of course. Any team around the country can see that Derry are a class outfit. So it'll hopefully be good in the summer."

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