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lords of the dance Form lines of significant figures like Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton offer Dublin momentum ahead of league


Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton's early season form bodes well for Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton's early season form bodes well for Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton's early season form bodes well for Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Pushing back the boundaries of high achievement, Ciarán Kilkenny long ago staked out the territory of sporting divinities.

Brian Fenton has flicked the superhero switch with the frequency of mere mortals turning on their bedside lamp.

For the better part of a glory-soaked decade, Fenton and Kilkenny have been Dublin’s lords of the dance, artists-in-residence as, for six straight years, Broadway was rendered in so many indelible shades of Sky Blue.

For Jim Gavin and now Dessie Farrell, the sensation must have been like having peak-era Messi and Ronaldo sharing the same dressing-room.

Kilkenny, the scriptwriter, is a cerebral presence dictating the narrative, bringing Shakespearean eloquence to the theatre.

Fenton, a Celtic Nijinsky, the gliding master, making the difficult appear absurdly easy, a dagger wrapped in silk.

The treasure island of their sporting plunder is home to 13 All-Ireland medals and ten Allstars. If anything, their two Footballer of the Year statuettes (both won by Fenton, with Kilkenny a serially shortlisted contender who many feel is overdue the GAA's Ballon d'Or) sells their influence short.

These twin Caesars of summer return to the Croke Park stage on Saturday in an unfamiliar role: as challenger, stripped of their championship belt, on the opposition benches in football's senate chamber, and with a point to prove.

The biggest question of all in Gaelic football – how do you stop Dublin – has surrendered to the one that asks how much more the great champions have to give.

Hill 16’s massed platoons will have found encouragement in the impressive stealth with which their marquee names advanced through O’Byrne Cup ties in Tullamore, Parnell Park, Longford and Dr Cullen Park.

Kilkenny fired ten points from play in three appearances and directed the pre-season movies with the authority and vision of a young Jim Sheridan.

An expert in kicking techniques could have studied every reel of his 210-minute shift and remained clueless on whether the Castleknock player was naturally right or left-footed. He is an authentic double-barrelled shotgun.

In Saturday’s victory over Laois, one of the qualities to set Fenton apart was immediately evident, that trick of the light where he seems to be scarcely moving, yet, unrushed, he leaves breathless, scrambling defenders thrashing about in his wake.

If 2021 was his quietest year in blue, here again, he was the composed giant of old, a study in grace, in the middle of the fray, but also above it, moving to a rhythm only the game’s Mount Rushmore talents can locate.

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There will, of course, always be an asterisk over January football, but the form lines of two such significant figures offer Dublin momentum ahead of eight days that might yield a revealing signpost to summer.

On Saturday, Kieran McGeeney brings Armagh back to the coliseum he once patrolled with such austere authority. A week later, the Dubs travel to Tralee for an Old Firm clash with Kerry, the county that, with Jack O'Connor's return, has seized the city team’s familiar All-Ireland favourite perch.

Fenton turns 29 in six weeks, yet it is a measure of Dublin’s age of imperium that last August’s extra-time rising by Mayo represented his first-ever championship loss.

For Kilkenny, four months Fenton’s junior but an 11-season veteran, it was just a second reversal. His first came as a teenager in 2012 (a torn ACL stole his 2014 summer), his three points from play insufficient to stop Mayo bringing the Pat Gilroy era to an end.

Dublin looked jaded as their run of extraordinary authority ebbed in 2021.

Dessie Farrell has spoken of his concern at how the taps of new, replenishing talent all but dried up in recent years.

So, Lee Gannon bolstering a big reputation in the O’Byrne Cup and Seán Bugler again resembling the player who looked destined for the upper rungs of the ladder in 2020 was a boost to Dublin's third-season capo.

But it was Kilkenny and Fenton who made the deepest imprint and who remain key to their team's fortunes.

The message from these generational talents over the past fortnight did not require any decoding. Their deeply immersed work in low-key surroundings was that of players not yet ready to leave behind their days of empire.

Their age profile is that of players who might yet be entering the highest peaks of careers marked by mountainous achievement.

As the Covid fog lifts, Farrell might be inclined to put down the prayer mat as he received a familiar and uplifting postcard from his team's glorious past.

And offer a silent invocation that this was Fenton and Kilkenny offering a tantalising vision of Dublin reborn and ready to stake out old and fertile summer ground.

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