Friday 23 March 2018

Another home but it's a case of the same old heartache for Saints

Reality of failure returns to haunt loyal fans as dream clash with Celtic bites dust

A dejected St Patrick's Athletic supporter wonders what could've been during the closing stages of his side's Champions League qualifier defeat to Legia Warsaw. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
A dejected St Patrick's Athletic supporter wonders what could've been during the closing stages of his side's Champions League qualifier defeat to Legia Warsaw. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

The life of the loyal saint has been one of devotion to a nomadic tribe. From Chapelizod to the dog tracks of the city and back again to Inchicore, the men of Dublin 8 have, it seems, foraged more successfully away from home than in their giant back yard, squeezed between the Camac and the Georgian houses of Emmet Road.

And so it is that Pat's must abandon their quaint, ramshackle home and wander again o'er the city, towards the foothills of the Dublin mountains. An appropriate viewpoint with which to assess an uphill assignment.

For those of you unacquainted with League of Ireland football – we are aware the number is dwindling year on year – last night's tie was not the equivalent of the Irish national team tackling its Polish equivalent.

No, this was more like Ireland v Germany; we all know how that story ends. Which made the existence of any remaining oxygen in this tie following the away leg in Legia's multi-million euro stadium, against their legion of international players, all the more incredulous.

That they had done so while cherishing the footballing ideals of a man, Liam Buckley, and the club's cult following, who each demand their team play with panache and style, garlanded the gesture of wonderful defiance still more.


As fans slowly trickled across the Tallaght bypass, they were alerted to the random presence of a goat that had invaded the pitch; those of us of a certain vintage will recall when sheep grazed freely on Richmond Park.

At that time, in the early 1990s, the homeless club nearly died a slow death; this writer recalls collecting raffle ticket money for the weekly wages and when it was attempted to deliver it to 125 Emmet Road – HQ – the locks had been changed.

That the club came so close to extinction has retained a fateful aversion to hubris in the bones of its followers. Instead, they harbour a fatalistic fidelity to the ever-present reality of failure.

That they operate, like so many of their ilk, within a dysfunctional Irish football pyramid, infects this thought process.

And so, while others, too many for the Saints' faithful's liking, slavishly awaited a potential sell-out in more ways than one at the Aviva against a Scottish team, the red and white hordes instead fretted about their defence.

The late blow of losing Ken Oman to a calf injury added lines to their already furrowed brows; some neat early interventions by his replacement Derek Foran soothed concerns.

Legia needed to score; their early efforts were fitful; the home side were not content to hold, they wanted to have the ball.

Sometimes they are guilty of great conceit. Ger O'Brien's too clever pass inside was gobbled up by Ivica Vrdolijak and Brendan Clarke had to save smartly from Ondrej Duda. The 700 Poles delivered bare-chested, beseeching encouragement.

But the great democracy of the World Cup has made dreamers of us all; Legia do not seem like the Champions League stalwarts their ambition declares them to be.

And yet, just as that egalitarian mood had been so ruthlessly quashed as Rio's great carnival advanced, so, too, the feeling here that Pat's had thrived last week when the pressure was least suffocating.

This was a greater test of mental – as well as physical – fortitude. Michal Zyro was finding space in between the lines, but, more often than not, the supposedly cultural Poles sought refuge in the agricultural.

Their physicality would initiate the first, fatal blow; a forearm tackle was blithely ignored, but the delicious through ball from Zyro could not be, nor their inability to effectively clear danger; Miroslav Radovic punished the error, as he had done last week. The advantage of the tie had been ceded. Pat's were now coursing the game. They had significantly narrowed the pitch and perhaps now regretted it as width became a premium.

The artistry of Keith Fahey, temporarily released with precision by Killian Brennan's sweet left foot, may have sketched an equaliser were it not for an audacious block and an advantageous keeper's deflection. He was even closer after the resumption.

As Dermot Desmond had supped his half-time cuppa, he would have seen little to damage his investment in a foreign land; his managerial staff had already departed. We would offer him a penny for his dreams if he lent us a pound.

Zyro delivers the spear to collective hearts with the clinching second. So, slowly, time ticks the seconds away to the death of our little dream with a third, fourth and fifth goal to turn it into a nightmare.

And, all at once, as we wandered once more towards home, it reminded us of the grimmest of realities.

Normal service will soon be resumed.

Irish Independent

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