Fahey: St Pat's return can rekindle my career
After disappearing from view over the last 18 months, Keith Fahey reappeared in Dublin yesterday, finally healthy -- and still believing he can be a force in a sport which has given him as much anguish as pleasure.
Since the eve of Euro 2012, when he tweaked a groin injury just 24 hours before the Irish squad flew to their pre-tournament base in Tuscany, Fahey's career has dipped alarmingly, to the point where he spent six months from June to December last year waiting on the phone to ring with an offer of a new club.
In the end, he got tired of hanging around and decided to call St Patrick's Athletic manager Liam Buckley for a meeting -- and a contract. Within a week of doing so, he was signed up and, having solved his physical and emotional problems, he marched back into the club's tiny Richmond Park ground yesterday hoping for more than redemption.
"I've never been as happy anywhere as here," Fahey said. "That's important to me."
While St Patrick's are not officially known as the patron saints of rehabilitated footballers, they've certainly established a reputation over the years for getting players back on track.
Fahey, as a case in point, was in danger of being lost to the game when he first signed for the club back in 2003. Six years later, he was off to Birmingham City, where he would win promotion to the Premier League and then the League Cup. Ireland would subsequently call too -- and 16 appearances for his country, the last of which came against Germany only 15 months ago, suggested everything was perfect in his world.
Far from it. The groin problem that kept him out of Euro 2012 was followed by a career-threatening hip injury and then a period when he sought compassionate leave from Birmingham over an issue he is still reluctant to discuss. "Sorry, that's private," he said.
What is public is his genuine love for St Pat's, which seems quaint in this age of money-hungry players.
"I just need to be somewhere where I can play again, where I can feel good about myself," he said. "You do question yourself. After the hip operation (last May), I was thinking, 'what's the story here, this isn't feeling great'. And it took a couple of months training with Sheffield United for me to regain confidence with regards to my fitness.
"Before then, I had to do a lot on my own. I am a bit of a loner anyway, but there was no choice. My contract at Birmingham ended last season and nothing else came, so when you are out in the cold with no club, you are forced to train alone, trying get yourself fit.
"Football is not a team game then and wasn't on the days I was down in Bushy Park (in Dublin) doing my drills -- and dogs kept robbing my cones.
"At that moment, I said to myself, 'I can't handle this any more'. A woman was trying to get the cones back from her dog and I took a deep breath and said, 'okay, go again and do your fitness stuff.' Then within seconds, another dog came over and ran off with more cones. That was when I started questioning my future."
Within a month, though, the horizon seemed brighter because, by this stage, he was at Sheffield United and on the verge of signing a contract with them until a broken toe ended that possibility. Hence, St Pat's and a return to the less pampered existence of part-time football.
"I don't mind bringing my kit home and washing it, that sort of stuff. It will be a test and maybe the standard (of the League of Ireland) will test me mentally as well, but that's something I just have to deal with. I will keep my head right," he said.
"I wouldn't say that my days in England are over, either. I'm not coming home to settle, but I'm not decided about my long-term future. I am just happy to have sorted myself out in the short-term. I needed a lift and signing for this club has given me that.
"I've had a hard time -- paying for my own operations and stuff like that -- but this place has something about it. It suits me.
"International football is not something I am thinking about -- I know everyone else seems to be interested in me playing for Ireland again -- but I'm only thinking about getting back on a park again. It has been a long time (nine months) since I last did so."