"Who is that guy?" - Diarmuid Connolly won't forget the first time he saw Brian Fenton play for Dublin
2015. Another cold day down the country somewhere.
Diarmuid Connolly remembers these league games like he was one of those classic old Gaels telling stories of times gone by.
He talks about O’Byrne Cup clashes and tells you the play by play. He recalls battles in February and March, in Castlebar, in Omagh, in Clones. He can tell you who scored when, who gave him the ball. He can give you some stats as well as if he was just another Dub on the hill.
For a man of such stature, a man who has such influence on so many plays in so many big games, for a man with seven All-Ireland senior medals, it’s fascinating how many of the small details Diarmuid Connolly can remember.
It would’ve been very difficult to forget his first encounter with Brian Fenton on the Dublin panel, in fairness.
In a brilliant sit-down interview with Barry Fennell of Hill 16 Army, the two-time All-Star cast his memory back to 2015 when he rejoined the county panel after another run with St. Vincent’s. Up in Monaghan, Connolly was sat on the bench and given front row seats to the start of what could be one of the most special careers.
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Brian Fenton was beginning his tenure in the sky blue jersey but, despite going three seasons since then having lost just once, it wasn’t always like that for the Raheny midfielder. In fact, Connolly wasn’t even sure of who he was at the start.
"He actually wasn't that tall when he was 18 or 19 and then he took a spurt and he’s about 6’5 now or 6’6 – he’s a huge man,” Connolly told Hill 16 Army.
“I remember coming back – we had a run with the club that year and I missed the first three or four league games. Came back – we were beaten by Corofin, I think, that year – and we were playing up in Clones against Monaghan.
“I was looking around the dressing room, there were a few new faces and I was asking the lads – I wasn’t starting that day, I came on as a sub – ‘who are these guys?’ They weren’t really around the panel, they hadn’t been on under-21s teams so they weren’t really on the radar.
“He was starting. Gets a goal after two or three minutes and, then, I’m like, ‘who is this guy’.
“It just spiralled from there. He kicked on and kicked on and kicked on. He got better and better, he got more confidence. As a young lad coming into a team, you’re obviously overawed – I was the same at his age coming into a squad like that.
“I just remember looking around asking ‘who is that guy’ and then him scoring a couple of minutes after up in Clones.
“That was Brian Fenton.”
The rest, as they say, is history. “Crazy” history as Connolly himself would tell you when considering the scale of what Fenton has done since.
The story of how Brian Fenton rose from nowhere really is incredible.
It wasn't until his last year of under-21s that he got the call-up and even then he wasn't in the count squad in the beginning of the season.
In a general conversation with the management team, his club mate Paddy O'Higgins recommended him but they were convinced that they had already seen him and gotten the measure of him. O'Higgins was more convinced that they hadn't seen him develop like he had.
He got his chance and he took it. Even when boys didn't know who he was.