GAA Football

Footballer of the Year favourite Brian Fenton is a 'superstar' says Cian O'Sullivan

Dublin's Brian Fenton is the bookies' favourite for the Footballer of the Year award  
Ciaran Gallagher

CIAN O’SULLIVAN did not see a “superstar” when he first set eyes on Brian Fenton, but he has certainly changed his mind since.

Fenton is the bookies’ favourite to be named Footballer of the Year following their All-Ireland SFC final replay win over Mayo last weekend. The 23-year-old midfielder has never tasted a Championship defeat as a Dublin player, with the Raheny man a fitting example of the Dubs’ dominance.

The only competitive losses he was involved in were the National League defeats to Kerry and Cork in 2015 and, even at that, Fenton only came off the bench those days. The 23-year-old has been an ever present during Dublin’s undefeated run of 29 competitive games.

In the space of two seasons, Fenton has claimed two Celtic Crosses, a pair of National League titles, a brace of Leinster medals, an Allstar and the man-of-the-match award in his debut All-Ireland SFC final. And now, he is odds on to be named Footballer of the Year to go along with a likely second Allstar.

But when Fenton first walked into the Dublin dressing-room, centre-back O’Sullivan admits he did not see greatness before him: “First impressions were like ‘no, this isn’t the superstar’, but he’s just a really attentive and diligent guy,” said O’Sullivan.

“Any feedback he received from management about what he needed to work on, he worked on that and he was extremely committed to getting into that team and he just improved training session on training session and, once he got his chance to start, he’s just taken off from there. It’s great to see that, if you do want this and you’re willing to work hard enough and dedicate yourself to it, that it can pay off.”

Clearly, first impressions do not count in this case, although O’Sullivan compares Fenton to corner-back Michael Fitzsimons, who has also enjoyed senior success despite not having an underage inter-county career.

Both Fitzsimons and O’Sullivan started the 2011 All-Ireland final as corner-backs as Pat Gilroy led the Dubs to their first All-Ireland in 16 years, sparking their current run of success. Fitzsimons had struggled to win a starting place under Jim Gavin until he was drafted into Dublin’s starting line-up for last weekend’s replay win over Mayo.

And he proved his worth with a man-of-the-match defensive masterclass: “What a performance he had at the weekend,” said O’Sullivan.

“He’s definitely a guy that deserved that opportunity. I’m glad that he’s getting the recognition now because he’s a really good, dedicated and important player on our Dublin team. I suppose there’s so much competition for places in that squad and that’s one of our great assets - that there is that competition there in our training sessions and guys are fighting for places.

“Cormac Costello is absolutely on fire over the last couple of weeks, he came on and kicked three scores, a massive contribution. You can only start 15 players unfortunately, but I think Jim has really worked on and focused on that ethos that it’s the squad and 30 guys that matters and I’d say he nearly uses his five or six subs in nearly every single game, so he sticks true to his word on that one. But I’m delighted for Fitzy.”

The futures of Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey have yet to be confirmed after they missed the 2016 season due to travel commitments. But O’Sullivan insists he has no interest in taking a similar break from Dublin’s period of dominance.

After featuring as a sub in the infamous 17-point hammering to Kerry in 2009, the Dublin string-puller claimed there is “not a hope in hell” he would have predicted he would have four Celtic Crosses in his back pocket eight-years-later.

O’Sullivan said: “I’m really relishing and cherishing these days.

“I started out in 2009 and we got hammered by Kerry in a quarter final and then, two years later, we were lifting Sam. Things can change in a very short space of time and that’s something I am very aware and conscious of.

"Four All-Irelands with Dublin now and, if you were to ask me now starting out my career in 2009, is that something I would have envisaged, not a hope in hell.”

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