Brian Fenton accepts reasoning behind Government’s elite status decision

“A movement of 5,000 people around the country… you’d assume is only going to lead to cases.”

Over the weekend, Brian Fenton was named PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year for the second time in three years – becoming the first player since Meath’s Trevor Giles to win the award twice.

Fenton beat his Dublin teammate Ciaran Kilkenny and Mayo rival Cillian O’Connor to the award.

PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year, Brian Fenton (Dublin) with his award in RTÉ.

Brian Fenton

The Raheny club man spoke to the media following his award and was asked about the GAA’s latest announcement that there will be no return to Gaelic games until Easter at the earliest.

The Government did not grant the GAA elite status – after it had done in 2020 – meaning no collective training or matches can take place.

However – despite many inter-county managers and players speaking out following the announcement – the two-time Footballer of the Year refused to get drawn on comparisons with the League of Ireland and completely understands the reasoning behind the decision.

“Ah no – it was more surprising, the change from last year for example,” Fenton replied when asked about the League of Ireland getting elite status.

“Last year we were classified as elite, this year we’re not. That was probably the confusing thing from a player’s perspective.

“I can fully see where the GAA are coming from, and the Government are coming from.

“The playing group from GAA, so if you were to run off the GAA, if you were to classify the GAA as elite, that would be – Paul Flynn said it – the movement of 5,000 people around the country.

“It’s not just the men’s football or hurling competition. It’s obviously the ladies competition. It’s the camogie competition.

“Probably underage as well. So I can see where they’re coming from.

“Jesus Christ, we’re trying our best to limit this whole thing, and try and get zero Covid and all that good stuff.

“So it’s disappointing obviously, just the comparison from last year to this year, but at the same time, you’re hardly going to start giving out.

“A movement of 5,000 people around the country, look it was great to have it last year, but that movement you’d assume is only going to lead to cases.

“If we can limit that from a GAA perspective and run it off properly and appropriately when the time comes, I can’t be giving out.”

Underage GAA return

While the six-time All-Ireland winner and his Dublin teammates are keeping themselves fit, the midfielder has a lot of sympathy for underage kids who are missing out on organised sport.

“We’re all keeping ourselves relatively fit and well. We’ll be ready to go whenever the green light comes, we’ll be ready to go,” Fenton said.

“I feel for underage kids. That’s the only thing. We’ll be ready to go. This is what we do. We’re ready to play Gaelic football whenever the time comes.

“But you’d certainly feel for kids. The social interaction and the learning, the development that kids get.

“Hopefully from that perspective, the GAA gets back sooner rather than later.”

Many people have argued that the GAA – and sport in a wider context – could lose a generation of kids.

When that was put to the 27-year-old, he expressed his sympathy for younger players in light of the current lockdown restrictions.

“I haven’t thought too deeply into it. I’m not too sure about losing a generation of players,” Fenton responded.

“You would certainly feel for kids. I just think back to when I was a young kid. The only thing you’d look forward to, you couldn’t wait for school to end to get training.

“You couldn’t wait to get training with the lads, whether it be Gaelic football, soccer, swimming – whatever it was.

“It was just the social interaction and those moments, the enjoyment and the fun aspect of it. So just on that, I definitely feel for young kids.

“They’re isolated enough as it is. They’re with their parents a lot of the time.

“You get so much learning, growth, life experiences from just being with a team in that team environment I think.”

Raheny GAA

The five-time All-Star winner looks at his own club Raheny as a guide to how important organised GAA activity is to people’s lives – both underage kids and indeed parents.

“I’d just look here at Raheny, and it’s the same at every club in the country, on the Saturday morning they run the nurseries,” Fenton explained.

“Just to see the interaction of kids and the number of kids, it’s a sight to behold. So you’d feel for them in that regard.

“It’s a great social outlet for parents to interact as well and mix and mingle.

“In Raheny for example a lot of parents would buy into the area, and come into the area from outside Dublin. So you’d feel for kids.

“From our perspective, we still have our work, we still have our lives, but kids almost all they want to do is play sport – I’m just speaking from a personal sense, looking back.

“Hopefully now it’ll return sooner rather than later. If you can get the underage structures up and going in a safe environment I think that would be the best first step.”

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