Fenton acknowledges breach of Covid regulations undermined Dublin’s season

‘We were completely wrong with the way the country was’ admits 2020 player of the year

Brian Fenton: ‘I love travelling and there probably will come a time when I’ll do it for an extended period but it very likely won’t be until I’ve finished playing football.” Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Brian Fenton: ‘I love travelling and there probably will come a time when I’ll do it for an extended period but it very likely won’t be until I’ve finished playing football.” Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

 

Brian Fenton has acknowledged that the breach of Covid regulations last April by a number of Dublin footballers was part of the reason for the team’s underwhelming year.

Speaking at an online media briefing, the 2020 Footballer of the Year acknowledged that he and the players who had taken part in the dawn training session in the Innisfails club should not have done so and that it was one of the factors contributing to the failure to add to the six-in-a-row.

The breach, which was widely publicised and very controversial, led to the team manager Dessie Farrell being suspended for 12 weeks even though he hadn’t been present.

“In retrospect we were completely wrong with the way the country was and the cases were at the time. We felt the effects of that with Dessie’s suspension.

“Looking back on last year I think it was a culmination of years on the road, the players – culmination of everything you’ve asked about really – and as well as that a crap performance, a really below par performance, against Mayo: beaten by a better team. Just frustrating more so on the day than to blame whatever before that.”

For Fenton, after two FOTY awards and five All Stars, the fallout was his first experience of negative publicity. Although he feels the coverage it got was disproportionate, he knows that the incident damaged his and the team’s reputation.

“When you’re in the league and championship bubble, it’s not really spoken about – ‘well, we have to prove them wrong,’ or whatever. Just at the time I couldn’t believe the attention it got.

“I always give this example. I was training that morning in Innisfails and the whole idea of outdoors and the safety of that. Later that morning, I was at a funeral. We did a guard of honour outside our club for a member who had passed away.

“I met more people on the road at the guard of honour than I had the morning of training but in retrospect we were wrong. The role models we set ourselves and the example we like to set, I think we admitted that at the time.

“It was new to me in terms of the exposure, the tweets, the negativity it caused and we’re very, very sorry for that.”

After an unbeaten league campaign, things went downhill pretty quickly. First came the controversy, followed by the least impressive Leinster campaign in 11 years and ultimately the loss of their All-Ireland against Mayo in the semi-final, bringing to an end six undefeated seasons and a career record of 44 unbeaten championship matches.

Poor performance

It all began with an unimpressive defeat of Division Four Wexford. Fenton disagrees that the writing was on the wall from that point.

“That was a poor performance for sure but in my head it wasn’t foreboding anything to come. It was just a poor windy day. We were well beaten on kick-outs and it was just the flattest of performances but no, certainly not.

“You watched it like it was no different to any other game and as is well-stated we have our standards in Dublin. Did we hit them? No, but the next day we try and hit them. It certainly didn’t scare me at the time, but looking back we probably were flat for many a game.”

Over the past two seasons, two significant players have departed the panel. Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion are still in their 20s but withdrew to concentrate on their careers.

In the context of the disappointment this year, had it ever crossed his mind that he might step away for a while after the unprecedented success of his football career had hit a speed bump?

“I love travelling and there probably will come a time when I’ll do it for an extended period but it very likely won’t be until I’ve finished playing football. I think there was a rumour; my brother-in-law’s brother, whatever sort of attachment he has to me, he was like ‘oh, are you taking a year off?’

“He had heard I was taking a year off or time out and it was news to me so certainly not, I’ll be going gung-ho again.”

Is there though a concern that Dublin have simply hit the end of the road after am historic run of achievement?

“Yeah, no doubt. I’m a sportsman and you look around and teams have a great run and then they might fall off for a few years like the Cavs (Cleveland Cavaliers) in basketball or all of those great basketball teams over the years.

“But I had a nice interaction with James McCarthy the other day. He was like ‘look around the dressing room; look at the players we have. What’s all the worrying about?’ It’s just bringing them together, please God.”

“ Brian Fenton was speaking at the launch of Avonmore Pro-Oats, a new product from Gaelic Players Association sponsor Avonmore Protein Milk.

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