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king of the hill Brian Fenton’s genius and Dublin’s carnivore instinct bring a sense of familiarity


Brian Fenton of Dublin leaves the pitch after the All-Ireland semi-final win over Cavan

Brian Fenton of Dublin leaves the pitch after the All-Ireland semi-final win over Cavan

Brian Fenton of Dublin leaves the pitch after the All-Ireland semi-final win over Cavan

IT is said that by the third time you set eyes on the Grand Canyon, the stupefying sense of awe is slightly diluted.

That same law of diminishing marginal returns does not apply to repeated viewings of another wonder of the world, the freakishly gifted, borderline miraculous, Brian Fenton.

Six seasons into a Dublin career without blemish, a 40-game odyssey into rarefied football air, the range of his talents retains the capacity to coax gape-jawed astonishment.

Fenton’s deeds on a rectangle of grass can provoke childhood wonder in the most cynical observer.

As Dublin eased into another All-Ireland final, so many of their matinee idols prospered under Saturday night lights.

Dean Rock kicked four more points from play, Ciaran Kilkenny franked his Footballer of the Year credentials with another quartet of scores, Con O’Callaghan provoked the kind of fear the sight of an approaching Great White’s dorsal fin creates among surfers.


Robert McDaid celebrates after scoring

Robert McDaid celebrates after scoring

Robert McDaid celebrates after scoring

And Robbie McDaid continued to find Jack McCaffrey’s uniform fits him like a tailored suit.

Yet it was to Fenton – the priceless masterpiece on Dublin’s gallery wall – that the eye was most frequently drawn.

Without ever seizing the title deeds to an All-Ireland semi-final played out in the kind of frigid conditions that might have persuaded Greta Thunberg to reconsider her views on global warming, he was effortlessly magnificent.

Easing into space in that gliding, effervescent fashion that sets him apart from even the very best of his peers, never hurried yet electrifyingly swift, the 27-year-old revealed himself once more as a player for the ages.

Cavan were not the first to discover that a vaccine that might successfully inoculate a team against Fenton’s graceful, yet pernicious menace might be beyond even Pfizer’s most brilliant minds.

Every trick with which he illuminates a contest is infused with artistic merit, each infusion of potency drawn from the deepest well of football intellect.

He scored four points from play, the third from under the Cusack Stand a rare triumph of refinement, a score of the championship contender.

Fenton’s genius and Dublin’s carnivore instinct brought a sense of familiarity to these alien times.

Approaching Croke Park in late afternoon was a surreal and jolting experience.

The towering coliseum loomed spectrally out of the half-dark, the centrepiece in an eerily unspooling silent movie. The absence of humanity was jarring, the hush unsettling.


Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper and Mick Fitsimons in battle

Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper and Mick Fitsimons in battle

Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper and Mick Fitsimons in battle

What should have been an ocean of humanity – contrasting waves of Breffni and Sky blue – was instead a dry gulch. Jones’s Road was as sparsely populated as a desert island.

No flag-sellers, no buskers, cars speeding unimpeded down the Clonliffe Road.

One lovely reminder of how these days ordinarily are: The family of legendary Dublin supporter Tommy “Molly Malone” Broughan were kitted out in his full 50 shades of blue regalia, ringing the bell as their 89-year-old father had on match days until his passing in September.

Cavan’s touching of fantasy – taking out Donegal, Monaghan and Down to reach the provincial mountain top for the first time since 1997 – had already advanced into the territories of championship folklore.

The tear-stained, eloquent post Ulster-final words from their talismanic captain Raymond Galligan – his entire body pulsing and trembling with emotion – spoke of the visceral impact their unlikely journey has had on a county where football is written into the genetic code.

Remember his words: “We had our doom and gloom over the last couple of months with Covid. There have been fantastic members of my own parish have passed away. My own community have had a lot of hurt. But, I hope we put a smile on everybody’s faces back home today.

“We knew there was thousands and thousands of people all over the world, all Cavan people, dressed in their Cavan jerseys, supporting us and screaming for us. We knew in the last quarter, there was every single mother and father and child was at home driving us on. We knew that and that got us over the line today.”

But, as an unerring volley of Dublin pre-match target practice rained down on the Canal End with the ominous whirring of deadly shell-fire, it was difficult to imagine a romantic punchline to this strangest of All-Ireland semi-finals.

The Dubs’ status as the game’s apex predator was reflected in the reality that a punter would have to place €50 note on Dessie Farrell’s team maintaining their six year All-Ireland unbeaten run to recoup a single euro coin.

A Cavan victory would have unseated even Seamus Darby’s 1982 overthrowing of Kerry from the throne of great GAA upsets.

The potential for such a convulsion at least survived the opening salvos – fine scores from Martin Reilly and James Smith gifting the Breffni a pair of impertinent early leads.

But the slowly grinding, super-efficient pulse of the greatest team the game has known didn’t miss a beat.

As the A-listers – Rock, O’Callaghan, Kilkenny and Fenton – eased Dublin into a three-point water-break lead, small drumlins of frustration were apparent on the Cavan horizon.

By half-time, Rock had scored four times from play, while contributing the sole free of Dublin’s 12 point half-time total.

An hour later, as the six-in-a-row chasing champions left the field 15 points to the good, U2’s Magnificent boomed from the stadium speakers.

A fitting soundtrack for an untouchable team and their once-in-a-lifetime Caesar of centrefield.

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Online Editors