Brian Fenton of Dublin with his PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year award for 2020.
Brian Fenton of Dublin with his PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year award for 2020. 

Fenton reacts to PwC Footballer of the Year award with typical class

By John Harrington

Dublin midfielder, Brian Fenton, is the PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year for 2020 having previously won the award in 2018.

Incredibly, the Raheny man has now won six All-Ireland medals in a row and never lost a match of championship football.

Despite all he has achieved in a short period of time, the 27-year-old was his usual humble self when he spoke to shortly after being told he was chosen as the Footballer of the Year by his fellow inter-county players. Congratulations on being named PwC Footballer of the year, Brian. You must be delighted?

Brian Fenton: Yeah, I'm delighted, but you do feel like a bit of a fraud as well, to be honest with you, with winning a second Player of the Year award, you feel a bit undeserving. But I'm just very proud, thrilled, and honoured. It's incredible. Why do you feel like a bit of a fraud?

BF: I don't know, you think of All-Stars and Player of the Year awards, and my 2018 Player of the Year Award still hasn't really sunk in because I'm still playing and keen and ambitious. You think of GAA legends like the Ó Sés, Gooch, or past winners of the Player of the Year like the Brogans. Just the list of names that's there. It's such an honour to even win it once and then to end up winning a second one and you're compared to Trevor Giles then.

To think of myself in that space, I genuinely feel undeserving. You even look at the nominees this year...Cillian O'Connor and the year he had and all he scored, but, even more so, because I know him personally, Ciarán (Kilkenny). I know how important he has been to this Dublin team and to me over this last year and how deserving he would have been of this award. It's just such a pinch me moment and something I'm so blown away by. That sort of humility is maybe why you have been as successful as you have been and is a trait that seems to run throughout this Dublin team.

BF: Despite all the success, you'd always hate for any of the other teams to think you were cocky or difficult in victory. You know that sort of way? You always have to be appreciative and humble and pay your respects. I know that's something we're conscious of a team even in terms of how we interact with referees. We try not to be overly aggressive or in their face, we want to be respectful in terms of how we put ourselves forward as players. We respect one another, we respect officials, we respect the opposition whether we beat them or lose to them. It's an important part of our culture for sure.

Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny are two of the 13 Dublin footballers nominated for 2020 PwC All-Stars. 
Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny are two of the 13 Dublin footballers nominated for 2020 PwC All-Stars. Was 2020 a mad year to be an inter-county footballer? You played in strange settings with no supporters, but was it still a good release to be able to play regardless of the surreal circumstances?

BF: It was a little bit of everything you've just said there. At the start it was just great to get back playing and we were so lucky because people were isolated, people were restricted, they were stuck on their own, and here we were as footballers being able to go training. Being able to meet up with the lads, albeit with some restrictions.

To have that outlet for our own wellbeing, we were very, very fortunate. To get playing games then was even better. The fact that they ran off such a unique championship was amazing to be a part of that, to be honest. I had never experienced straight knock-out championship so that was exciting to be a part of.

The negative side of it was that there was no fans there to see it. Fans add so much and we missed them so much. Hopefully if 2021 brings anything we can get sport back, and sport with fans and spectators back, because that's the magic of the GAA. Your whole family is involved, there's always a bit of madness around tickets, it's just that whole thing that really adds to it.

So, it was a negative there were no fans last year, but there were a loads of positives and it was just great to be a part of and be able to play and obviously have the success that came afterwards as well. There were a few little changes this year in terms of new players coming into the team, winning their first All-Ireland, and Dessie Farrell, obviously, coming in as manager. You and a few others in the panel would have worked with Dessie a lot at underage level, going back to U-13 development squads. Did those factors add another layer of satisfaction to winning this championship?

BF: Yeah, big time. Say the likes of Robbie McDaid who really burst onto the team this year. Robbie is our age and would have been the minor captain in 2011 and just hadn't quite made it with the senior team but this year was great for him. Little bits like that would add to it, because you have strong connections with lads you would have played with since underage.

To play for Dessie this year...when I'll look back on it I'll be very happy that we won that All-Ireland for Dessie because he has a very unique record now of winning minor, U-21, and senior All-Irelands as manager. Dessie, as Shane Carthy recently said on the Late, Late Show, is very much a father figure for a lot of us. So to win an All-Ireland with him as manager was very special and something I'll be eternally thankful for.

Like Shane, Dessie has done a lot for me both personally and through sport. So just to pay him back was really the highlight for me.

Ciaran Kilkenny, Brian Fenton, Dessie Farrell and John Small at the 2016 All-Stars Awards at the Convention Centre, Dublin. 
Ciaran Kilkenny, Brian Fenton, Dessie Farrell and John Small at the 2016 All-Stars Awards at the Convention Centre, Dublin. I'm sure your family will be delighted for you. Have you told them yet about winning the Footballer of the Year award?

BF: No! I was always envious of Cian Lynch back in 2018 when we won the Players of the Year awards because he never told his parents until the Awards night and was able to surprise them. So now that the chance has come around again I've taken the opportunity to surprise my dad. I've told my sisters and we've teed up a all of us watching the All-Stars on the tv type thing on Saturday evening.

I'll have told my Dad I'd be hopeful enough of getting on the Team of the Year, which would be great, but he won't know more than that. I'm fortunate we were able to pre-record the segment, so it should be nice to spring a surprise on my Dad and see what the reaction is.

Anyone else I've told about it already are so proud, and I'm looking forward to being able to meet a few club people and ex-managers in the next while and chat to them because we as players owe so much to the people who have brought us along the journey and helped us and moulded us. So, yeah, looking forward to the whole aftermath. I'm sure the Kerry-man will come out in your father at some stage and he'll remind you that you're still two behind Jack O'Shea as far as Footballer of the Year awards are concerned?

BF: No doubt! No matter what level you get to or how many All-Irelands you win, there are still comparisons to the Kerry team or a Kerry player and how you wouldn't even compete against them!

That's just going to be the narrative I'll have to put up with for the foreseeable. But, look, it's part and parcel of what keeps you grounded and keeps you focused and having a little bit of a chip on your shoulder to say, "Right, let's go one better".

Look, Jack O'Shea was by all accounts the best player ever, so even to be described in the same company as him is a great privilege and honour.

Brian Fenton of Dublin about to claim a mark during the 2020 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. 
Brian Fenton of Dublin about to claim a mark during the 2020 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. I know you're in the habit of writing down goals and targets you have for the future. You have never lost a championship match and won six All-Irelands in a row, which is ridiculous, really! Keeping motivated clearly isn't an issue for you, so what goals and objectives will be you be writing down for 2021?

BF: I don't know! It'll be based on and timed appropriately on when we get back playing games and I can see what sort of shape I'm in.

Truth be told, I'd still look back on games from last year. Say the All-Ireland Final, for example, I felt I was relatively quiet. Even though I was busy enough from a less spectacular point of view and got on plenty of ball, but I thought I had a quiet first half. There are always things like that you remember that chip away at you. Despite winning the Final and getting on the Team of the Year there's always things you'd look back on and think you could have done better or I should have had more dominance in that play.

That will very much drive my goals in terms of being dominant for the whole game, having a stronger first half, things like that. Truth be told, it's just always about wanting to be better. I've said this before, but I'd hate to think I'm on the way down or reached a peak and heading down now because the peak is so good.

The whole thing that underides any goals I set is just that i want to keep getting better, to be a better player than I was. That encompasses everything from fitness to my mindset to my application to my skill. Just to be better.

Look, I'm inspired by other sports as well. You look at Tom Brady and the NFL and all sorts. You pull your inspiration wherever you can pull it from. Just that sustained excellence, maybe we've proven it over the last few years, but to show a high level of performance on a consistent basis is I think a really important thing for me.

I don't want to be that player who just came for five or six years and was gone again. Not never heard of again, but didn't play as well. I think if you're that dominant player for a decade or 11 or 12 years, that to me is a big driver and a motivator.

So hopefully that will come to fruition in the next few years.