The Leeside legends series: Fenton flew high with Cork and the Magpies

The Leeside legends series: Fenton flew high with Cork and the Magpies
Cork captain John Fenton with the Liam McCarthy Cup after beating Offaly in 1984 at Thurles. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

EVERY now and again a county produces a hurler of exceptional ability, one who seems to have that little bit extra marking him out as a player apart.

In a county like Cork where superstars are fairly common John Fenton of Midleton certainly left a big imprint during the seventies and eighties.

John was born in the east Cork town in 1955 and attended Midleton CBS a school which did not compete in the Harty Cup in that era. However, he was one of the mainstays of the side that won the Cork Intermediate hurling championship in 1978.

Unfortunately, Midleton’s first four years in the Senior ranks were to end in disappointment as they lost four consecutive senior semi-finals in the St Finbarr’s.

It was a case of keep trying for the Midleton team and they were rewarded in 1983 when they defeated St Finbarr’s 1-18 to 2-9 in the county final.

Later that year Midleton also lifted the Munster club championship when they defeated Tipperary side Borrisoleigh after a replay, though they would fall short to Gort in the All-Ireland.

They didn't retain the county crown, but bounced back in 1986 to make it two titles in four years. 

In 1987 Midleton were winners again, defeating Na Piarsaigh, and they also showed their class when winning the Munster club championship with a win over Waterford side Cappawhite.

They followed up with an All-Ireland club championship finally, when beating crack Galway club side Athenry.

Fenton had to wait another four years for his next county medal when they saw-off Glen Rovers, but it was a great way to conclude his club career.

His inter-county career didn’t get off to a great start when he was part of the minor team that lost to Tipperary in the first round of the Munster championship in 1972.

At U21 level, there was disappointment when they were beaten in the 1975 All-Ireland against Kilkenny but the classy hurler was after being fast-tracked into the Cork squad. Though it was very hard to break into the senior set-up in a period when the Rebels won three in a row and there were very few subs used, he was at the heart of the team in the 1980s.

Cork won the leagues in 1980 and '81 and regained the Munster trophy in '82 and '83, without getting their hands on Liam McCarthy

The biggest thrill in Fenton's Cork career came in 1984 when he captained Cork to win the Centenary All-Ireland final against Offaly in Thurles.

“I also had the honour of captaining Midleton to win the 1983 Cork Senior championship and that was rather special after losing out in the previous four semi-finals to the Barrs.

“The following year I had the honour to lead Cork to win in the Centenary final and those two victories I will never forget,” said John.

Cork captain John Fenton introduces President Patrick Hillery to Donal O’Grady before the Centenary All-Ireland Final at Semple Stadium, Thurles in 1984.
Cork captain John Fenton introduces President Patrick Hillery to Donal O’Grady before the Centenary All-Ireland Final at Semple Stadium, Thurles in 1984.

A special season for the GAA turned into a special season for Fenton as he lifted three trophies and finally got his longed for Celtic Cross on the field of play.

A second All-Star and Hurler of the Year award topped a remarkable year which saw the midfielder finish top championship scorer with a tally of 1-33 over four games.

Two years later Fenton clinched his third All-Ireland senior medal when Cork defeated Galway. Having taken a while to establish himself as a starter, he landed an incredible five successive All-Star awards at midfield.

In 1987, John scored a goal at Semple Stadium Thurles that is rated by many as the goal of the century. 

It came so fast it was almost impossible to remember the build-up but Tomás Mulcahy won possession and flicked the ball into the direction of Fenton some 50 metres from the Limerick goal. 

Amazingly John came from nowhere and flicked the ball forward to open space before unleashing an unstoppable shot to the roof of the late Tommy Quaid’s net.

John Fenton of Cork fires a free against Galway in the 1986 All-Ireland. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
John Fenton of Cork fires a free against Galway in the 1986 All-Ireland. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

This highlighted his astonishing striking, the wrists that sent so many scores between the posts from frees and open play.

He retired from inter-County hurling in 1988 but played on for his club for another three years.

John resides in Midleton with his wife Christine and they were blessed with three children Clare, Niamh and Ian.

Fenton continues to work with youngsters in the hope they will progress to play at a high level of hurling.

John Fenton was a professional in his approach to hurling but the Cork fans also hailed him as a pure artist.

John Fenton lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup after Cork’s win over Offaly in 1984.
John Fenton lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup after Cork’s win over Offaly in 1984.
  • John Fenton is the holder of three All-Ireland Senior medals;
  • He captained Cork to win the Centenary All-Ireland final in 1984 against Offaly;
  • Fenton scored a goal against Limerick in 1987 that is rated goal of century;
  • He retired from Inter-county hurling in 1988 but continued to play for his club until 1991.
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