Christy Fagan's goals have set up a dream tie, writes Seán Ryan
WHEN it comes to attacking spearheads or target men, St Patrick's Athletic manager Liam Buckley doesn't do stereotypes. The stereotype is a commanding figure, with a physique designed to match the physicality of six-foot-plus defenders. Buckley's choice, Christy Fagan, is a squirt in comparison, his 5' 9" height a lesson in deception.
Standing beside the likeable Dubliner, it is easy to see how defenders can be lulled into a false sense of security by the slightness of his physique. However, Fagan compensates in other areas, with a tireless work rate, great movement, and clinical finishing. The latter attribute saw him become the first League of Ireland player to score in four consecutive European games, when he hit St Pat's extra-time winner in their thrilling 2-1 win (3-2 aggregate) over Siroki Brijeg last Thursday in the Europa League second qualifying round.
Fagan has an excellent pedigree, having graduated from the Home Farm, Manchester United and Glenn Hoddle Academies, but it has always been thought his lack of pace held him back from fulfilling the promise of his latent footballing talent.
The best offer he received after graduating from the Glenn Hoddle Academy was a stint with English League Two side Lincoln City, and that only lasted a season, with most of it spent on loan to a little-known Spanish club.
A player like Fagan needs a manager who puts his trust in him, and it wasn't until he returned to his native city that he found, not one, but two such managers. Pat Fenlon, now with Hibernian, brought him to Bohemians last year. Fagan averaged a goal every two games as he helped Bohs to a surprise fifth place, and he also opened his European account with a goal away to Olimpia Ljubljana.
This year's move to St Pat's has seen his career blossom further under Buckley. Once again, he is his team's top scorer with nine goals in 13 league games, and a goal in each of the three Europa League games he played.
It's an impressive ratio, but, in his hunger for perfection, he's not happy. "I've a good ratio of goals in the league," he said, "but, with the chances we are creating, it could be a bit better."
As the fulcrum of the attack in a 4-3-3 system, Fagan spent a lot of the 110 minutes he was in action last Thursday up front on his own, as his forward companions Seán O'Connor and Chris Forrester were also assigned defensive duties. The amount of running involved was such that, after scoring his goal in the 105th minute and diving in celebration, he admitted: "Once I hit the ground, I struggled to get up."
Five minutes later, he was called ashore, to a standing ovation. Many observers were amazed that Fagan had been left on so long, as Anto Flood offered a fresh pair of legs on the bench, but manager Buckley's patience -- and confidence -- in Fagan was rewarded.
It was another tremendous night in Inchicore, when the part-timers somehow out-thought and outplayed the full-timers from Bosnia & Herzegovina. Their reward is a money-spinning tie against Bundesliga giants Hannover 96, with the first leg next Thursday (7.45) at Tallaght Stadium, as Richmond Park doesn't meet UEFA's requirements for a third qualifying round tie.
On the surface, this is a bridge too far for St Pat's, as it has been for three of the last four seasons. On each occasion, it took a big club -- Hertha Berlin, Steaua Bucharest and Karpaty Lviv -- and the loss of their home venue, to deny them progress, but Fagan is upbeat about their prospects. "Hannover is an unbelievable dream tie," he said. "Coming back from Bosnia when the draw was being made, they were the team we wanted, and moving to Tallaght Stadium won't have any negative effect.
"We're part-time, but everything is done like a full-time club. We're as professional as it gets, and we've been working hard to keep in condition for games like this.
"Against Hannover, obviously there will be no pressure on us. We'll enjoy the tie and give a good account of ourselves. It's a step up, but we'll try to match them with our possession-based style, trying to keep the ball moving and the other team moving."
St Pat's, who earn €100,000 for each round, are hoping for a full house -- and live coverage by German TV. If they get both, it will ease their financial worries for a while.
The cost of competing in Europe, at this high season for holidays, is expensive, as club secretary Anthony Delaney explained. "There was no direct flight to Bosnia, so we flew into Dubrovnik and then had a four-hour coach journey. The flights cost on average €700-€800 each and, as there wasn't room for all of us on the flight, the chairman and myself had to fly out a day earlier."
The cost of flights alone took care of most of the gate receipts from last Thursday's home tie. Needless to say, that was the last thing on the mind of the fans outside Richmond Park after the game. They were too busy launching into a chorus of "We're all off to Germany . . ."