Brian Fenton hasn’t lost any of the 36 championship games he has played for Dublin.
He is 27 years old, and has won 5 All-Ireland titles, 4 All-Stars and a Footballer of the Year award.
He didn’t have a stand-out underage career, and almost out of nowhere, found himself starting at midfield in the 2015 All-Ireland final against Kerry. He scored a point after 15 seconds to settle his nerves, his team won, and for the cherry on top, he won the man-of-the-match award. Not bad for a young fella.
But it’s in the following years that the story gets interesting. And for the second week in a row I have the Second Captains podcast to thank for inspiring this column. Because in a recent interview with them, Fenton revealed how he had heard a lot about second season syndrome – where hypothetically a player or team who has had an exceptional breakthrough year performs significantly worse in their second year.
So this became his driving force. He would hate for someone to be able to say about him – wow didn’t he have a great first year but he wasn’t half the player after that. Fenton was determined not to let that happen, so in his own words, he ‘drove on, pushed on and improved’.
I bring this story up because for almost 30 years, senior championship winning teams in Sligo have had some sort of second season syndrome. Because up until 2017, no team since St Pat’s in 1988/89 could put two titles back-to-back. Shamrock Gaels, Tubbercurry, Eastern Harps, Tourlestrane, St. Mary’s, Bunninadden, Curry and Coolera-Strandhill all won titles in that time, but none managed to reproduce the goods two years in a row.
Until Tourlestrane beat their long-standing rivals Eastern Harps in the 2017 final. And they haven’t stopped since. Like Fenton’s Dublin, they have now won 5 titles on the trot, and they deserve all the plaudits that have and will come their way after last Sunday’s defeat of Drumcliffe-Rosses Point.
I was at only two of their games on this run, both against my own club. One in 2018, when they came as close as they ever have in those 5 years to losing. John McPartland’s tactical brain and Niall Murphy’s on field genius almost brought Coolera-Strandhill to a famous victory, but Tourlestrane despite being at sea for much of the game managed to fight back and secure a draw. And then in 2019 when they were firm winners in their 4th victorious county final in a row.
And that’s the thing about them. They can win in many different ways. They can go out and hammer a team when they are at their best, or they can grind a result out when they’re not. And great credit should go to management and players for this achievement.
Drive on. Push on. Improve. It mightn’t always lead to 5-in-a-row but it won’t do you any harm either.
*Column 4 for the Sligo Weekender. Published 24 Sept 2020.