Brian Fenton was the inaugural winner of An Liathróid Oir (in English - Ballson D'or) Footballer of the Year. We presented him with the prize in Buskers On the Ball in Temple Bar this week. He was delighted.
Fenton: When you sit down at the start of the year, you say you want to win an All-Ireland and a Ballon D'or, isn't it?
Balls: Ballson D'or, Brian. Or Liathroid Oir in Irish.
Fenton: Oh yeah, Ballson D'or, yeah, yeah...
The voting system is modelled on the Ballon D'or. The franchise consisted of every inter-county manager and captain along with a journalist from each county. In Gaelic football, that's 99 votes. As in the Eurovision, there's no voting for a player from your own county.
In a tight vote, Brian Fenton emerged the victor, just pipping Lee Keegan to the prize. 31 votes to 29 was the final tally. Bearing that in mind, how does Fenton feel about missing out on that other big award, the Opel All-Stars Footballer of the Year prize. Needless to say, many Dublin supporters were very offended on his behalf.
I suppose when you're nominated for the award and it's so close, and you don't win it then, there is a slight disappointment. And it would be a good for your club and your family and that honour that comes with it. Look, we won Sam Maguire in October and an All-Stars, just to get complimented with that is huge for me.
Obviously, there's that disappointment when you didn't win. But looking back, Lee is a fantastic footballer, Lee was a brilliant footballer when I was 17, 18, 19, watching him when he was flying for Mayo. So I don't begrudge him the award, he's a fantastic footballer, probably the best in the country.
LISTEN TO THE FULL BRIAN FENTON INTERVIEW BELOW ON A SPECIAL HARD SHOULDER PODCAST:
Dublin-Mayo has probably supplanted Dublin-Kerry as the most fraught and hotly anticipated rivalry in the GAA - at least for the time being. Spectators have detected more than a hint of niggle in recent encounters. Do Mayo irk Dublin on the pitch?
Not me individually. Possibly some of our lads because they've had such great battles and because they've ran us so close. With other teams, in Leinster, you might beat them by a couple of points and there isn't that tension in the dressing room or on the pitch.
In two years with Dublin, Fenton now has two All-Ireland titles. In 2015, he took home the Man of the Match award following his first All-Ireland final. This year, he was a central figure again as Dublin squeezed by Mayo in an emotional saga. Tough question. Which final whistle brought the greater euphoria?
That's such a tough question. I think for me, it was probably this year. Last year was so special. Beating Kerry in the rain in Croke Park. Everyone had a great day and it was such a fantastic occasion for me winning my first All-Ireland.
Then, this year, doing back to back was so special. There was a lot of things asked of us. There's a lot of questions asked of their character. We'd been portrayed as this fantastic team all year and then we drew against Mayo, sort of stumbled a little bit and people are saying "are they as good as they think they are, or we say they are?"
To have those questions answered in the finals and to win back-to-back All-Irelands was so special.
Fenton was the last man to put boot to ball in this year's championship. With Mayo trying a manufacture a late equaliser, Darren Daly blocked down a Tom Parsons pass and the ball fell at Fenton's feet. It was a sweet moment.
If you watch the game back, Darren Daly makes an unbelievable block and the ball falls to me. And Maurice Deegan, I can just, in the corner of my eye, see him raise his hand to his mouth to blow the final whistle and I just booted the ball in the air.
I watched it back and my reaction was just disgraceful. I was just running around like a wild man. I wasn't in the pile-on.
What of the man who's steering things at Dublin these days, the man who has presided over this incredible period of success? It's obligatory nowadays to ask Dublin players what is Jim Gavin really like. We get no clue from his TV interviews, where he remains inscrutable, always polished and on-message. All told, his determination to say nothing of interest is incredibly admirable. Is he funny behind the scenes? Is he forbidding or scary?
Jim is great craic like. He has that ability to speak to you individually and speak to you as a team. He's very polished, maybe not as robotic in the dressing room as he might be externally but for me, I can't be more grateful to have him as a mentor and as a manager.
He's not forbidding or scary at all. Obviously, if you're a bad game, you'll be told and you'll be asked to discuss it with coaches. But he's definitely of the mindset that says "You're a good footballer, you're one of the best footballers in Dublin, so just go out and express yourselves."
Despite his youth, Fenton has become a symbol of his team's success. His own personal stats are often used to illustrate the scale of Dublin's dominance in the Jim Gavin era. He had yet to lose a championship match for the Dubs. But he would like the word to go out that he does know that losing feeling with Dublin. Not to mention Raheny, but that's a different story.
People are saying I haven't lost a game, I have. It wasn't Longford (in the O'Byrne Cup). One of my first appearances was against Cork in the National Football League last year down in Pairc Ui Rinn. I came on as a sub and we want we lost that day and the second loss was against Kerry in Fitzgerald Stadium. So, I have been in a losing dressing room.
That being said, the rest of Leinster is in a state of near despair at the talent coming out of Dublin. In interviews, the current generation of Dublin players are always keen to emphasise that this is a special period and the good times won't last forever. This mantra keeps the team honest.
Fenton is adamant that no one in the Dublin dressing room takes the present success for granted. He recalls a conversation with John Small before the All-Ireland final. And ominously enough for the rest of the country, he already senses that there will be a serious push for three-in-a-row next year.
We've a saying in Dublin, we say "these are the best days of our lives."
I remember in the parade before the All-Ireland, I walked up and I just said to John Small "these are the best days of our lives so don't take them for granted." And you're walking around Croke Park in front of 82.000 people and you're just saying to yourself "this is spectacularly special."
We're fully aware of all the talk in the media that there's that record, that Dublin have now two in a row, four All-Irelands this decade. I know there's lads in that dressing room, and myself included, that do not take that for granted. They're not going to rest with that either. I know from talking to lads, sitting down and planning next year that there's going to be a big push to continue the same next year.