Monday 18 February 2019

Fagan on fire as emotional St Pat's end cup famine

Derry City 0 St Patrick's Athletic 2 - FAI Ford Cup final

St Patrick's Athletic captain Ger O'Brien lifts the cup
St Patrick's Athletic captain Ger O'Brien lifts the cup
Christy Fagan, St Patrick's Athletic, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal with team-mate Chris Forrester
Philip Lowry, Derry City, in action against Kenny Browne, St Patrick's Athletic
Philip Lowry, Derry City, in action against Kenny Browne, St Patrick's Athletic
Ger O'Brien, St Patrick's Athletic, in action against Michael Duffy, Derry City
Christy Fagan, St Patrick's Athletic, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal with team-mate Keith Fahey
Conan Byrne, St Patrick's Athletic, in action against Ryan McBride, Derry City
Christy Fagan, St Patrick's Athletic, reacts after his shot goes narrowly wide
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In the aftermath of victory, it was St Patrick's Athletic skipper Ger O'Brien who found the words to sum up the meaning of an emotional afternoon in Ballsbridge for a community club from Inchicore.

"There's grown men in their 60s and 70s crying out there," said the full-back, with the look in his own eyes hinting that a childhood Saints fan, with a family steeped in the club, might also have shed a tear.

This was the end of a famine, an overdue success which will change the narrative of future FAI Cup tilts. No longer will the year 1961 define the Saints' relationship with this competition.

"When we see you guys, we tell you the weight wasn't there," smiled O'Brien, "But it felt good lifting that trophy."

When Brian Kerr, a veteran of previous disappointments, made his way from the TV gantry to revel in the moment, he spotted O'Brien and mouthed just two words - 'Thank You.'

"This is the Holy Grail," smiled defender Kenny Browne, seconds after receiving a bear-hug from Kerr en route to the dressing-room.

Reflection

It would be wrong to describe the St Patrick's Athletic celebrations as wild. If anything, there was a sense of relief and contentment which hung in the air. This was an outcome which prompted reflection as well as jubilation.

Their owner, Garrett Kelleher, who assumed control in 2007, was there in the heart of the celebrations. "It's a real family club," said the businessman. "The journey has been phenomenal. I'm a bit teary eyed myself.

"It's not a monetary thing (his investment), I'm not in it for financial reasons. I never have been. This is the best day I've had in my time at Pat's, I can't believe it. After seven (final) losses over 53 years, this is huge."

The temptation is to use the phrase eighth time lucky. But on the balance of play, Liam Buckley's squad fully deserved the win, even though the victorious manager acknowledged that nerves were a factor in an underwhelming spectacle from a football point of view.

This renewal lacked the drama of 2006 and 2012 meetings between these sides, which featured seven and five goals respectively.

For the Saints fans, the key stat was that those jousts wound up with Derry joy and the painful familiarity of heartbreak at the last hurdle.

They won't care that the 2014 decider will never figure in debates about the greatest renewals. Nor will they be bothered about the fact that the winning pair of Christy Fagan goals were both aided by sloppy defending.

All that matters is the medal in the pocket and the inscription on a trophy which has eluded them since the year that John F Kennedy was appointed president of America and RTE television started broadcasting in Ireland.

"The hoodoo, the voodoo, all of that is finished," said the delighted Keith Fahey whose composure shone to the fore as the Saints seized control of this match in the second half.

"I'm just delighted. Happy, happy, happy. I'm delighted for the whole club, the fans, the staff, the players, everyone."

Those sentiments were echoed by his colleagues, in tandem with shared admiration for Fagan, whose brace brought his tally for all competitions in 2014 to 27 goals. The ex-Manchester United trainee has grown from a respected link player to a prolific finisher.

"The best striker in the league by a mile and for years," enthused Browne, "He's added the goals and now he's the all-round package. I just hope we can hold onto him."

What made the outcome all the sweeter for the 25-year-old was that it came in a game where he had to persevere through a first half where he failed to meet his own high standards. "He could have had six," joked O'Brien.

The 25-year-old was at the heart of every Saints advance into opposition territory.

Ryan McBride did threaten for Derry in the opening minutes, but the centre half and his partner Aaron Barry - both of whom were injury concerns beforehand - were finding it hard to keep track of Fagan as he ghosted into space to collect a series of passes from centre-half Sean Hoare.

However, he was prevented from scoring by a combination of poor control and good goalkeeping from the advancing Ger Doherty, although the netminder was fortunate that Conan Byrne was unable to find the empty net from a narrow angle as he gathered one rebound.

"I had a few chances early on," Fagan reflected afterwards. "I was disappointed I didn't score. One or two touches got away from me."

As the half progressed, the Dubliners began to enjoy a little more time in possession with the midfield three of Fahey, the busy Greg Bolger and Killian Brennan prominent as Derry struggled to keep hold of the ball.

Still, the clearest sight of goal came off the back of an ugly scramble, dominated by bodies crashing into each other, which concluded with Fagan's instinctive left-footed effort fizzing inches wide of the post. "I missed that one narrowly," he said, "I knew I just had to keep going. I thought there was a goal there for me."

He was right. The break gave Derry a chance to regroup, but the Saints retained the initiative after the restart and grabbed the lead with a goal which emphasised the reason for their superiority at that juncture with a spell on the ball followed by a lung-bursting run from Fahey to collect a pass from Conan Byrne.

Cleverly, the 16-time capped Irish international dragged back for Fagan, who had dropped off into space and attempted a right footer which spun off Ryan McBride and into the net with stand-in right-full Danny Ventre caught in two minds and left red-faced as the ball trickled past his station.

That put the onus on Derry to commit bodies and step it up a gear, although it almost cost them after the hour mark when a free broke down and the increasingly influential Fahey burst forward on the counter and expertly laid it on a plate for Fagan with a sumptuous pass that was wasted by a scuffed left-footer.

McBride was stretchered off in the aftermath of that incident, with Barry Molloy reverting to centre-half and Barry McNamee introduced to the centre of the park.

The newcomer helped his side move the ball a little quicker and could have levelled matters when Derry's slickest move of the match culminated with a Philip Lowry lay-off and a left-footer which the firm hands of Brendan Clarke kept under control.

St Pat's were in sight of glory and, inevitably, some nerves crept in as territory was conceded.

"It was not planned to sit back as deep as that," said Buckley. "You are looking for trouble when you sit back into your box and you are letting them play around you."

O'Brien was carrying a knock that prematurely ended his contribution as a succession of poor clearances allowed Derry to fashion an opportunity which Rory Patterson rose to steer over the bar.

Then, as injury-time approached, a free kick was conceded which Patrick McEleney drilled into the wall. Kelleher admitted his heart was in his mouth at that point.

Fagan stayed alert, though, and as Derry ran out of time, they pressed self-destruct as the clock ticked into the last of the four added minutes.

Molloy got caught in a spin and mishit a back-pass to Doherty which was gratefully received by the predatory Fagan, who had the acceleration to get there ahead of the Derry duo and dispatch to the bottom corner in front of the end populated by the Saints hardcore who could barely believe their eyes.

"It was a bad mistake from myself and that's not good enough," confessed Molloy, another who came into game with question marks about his wellbeing. "We know what Fagan is about. He plays off the shoulder, and his movement is excellent.

"We gave them two goals but, from his point of view, it's great striker play and he's capitalised on two mistakes."

At last, Buckley could relax, secure in the knowledge that his place in Saints history is secured after a win which makes up for the disappointment of not being able to hold onto the league crown this term.

"I'm looking forward to retaining the cup next year," he grinned. They will embark on that journey with a different kind of pressure.

Derry City: Doherty, Ventre, McBride (McNamee 65), Barry, Jarvis; Lowry, Molloy; Dooley, P McEleney (Houston 90), Duffy; Patterson.

St Patrick's Athletic: Clarke, O'Brien (McCormack 80), Hoare, Browne, Bermingham; Bolger, Fahey (Chambers 90), Brennan; Byrne, Fagan, Forrester (Fitzgerald 90).

Referee: P Sutton.

 

Game at a glance

Man of the match

Keith Fahey (St Patrick's Athletic): Christy Fagan bagged the goals and Greg Bolger was excellent but Fahey, naturally comfortable on this stage, deserves the accolade.

Ultimately it was his purposeful burst from midfield that lifted the tempo and created the opener, and the quality which brought him to the Premier League and international football shone through in that key window. Question marks surround his next move but it's a pleasure to have him around the league, with his forthright honesty to be encouraged.

Turning point

Fagan should have scored before the break with a left-footer that was so close to breaking the deadlock. Derry failed to heed the warning, the Saints grew in confidence and the top scorer had the last laugh.

Talking point

Did Derry's injuries make a difference? The Candystripes were magnanimous afterwards while alluding to the fact that a number of their players - including both centre-halves - were carrying knocks. Still, Pat's finished 24 points ahead of them in the league, so the result did go to form and it would be wrong to labour the injury point.

Magic moment

Shortly after Fagan put his charges ahead, Fahey marched across the halfway line and picked out the prolific frontman with a brilliantly weighted right-footed pass that deserved to be converted. But it was squandered.

Ref watch

Padraigh Sutton's profile has soared this year, with the Clare official landing a host of plum games, but he's not everybody's cup of his tea. He produced three yellows in the opening 15 minutes, which wouldn't be out of character, but he was less visible thereafter. His name wasn't prominent in the post-mortem, so that's the sign of a job well done.

What the managers said

Liam Buckley (St Pat's): "With 20 minutes to go I wished it was over. But I am just delighted, it's a monkey off our back, all this 50 years and whatever. It's great to bury that one. I thought there was nerves out there for a few of the guys but we got through it."

Peter Hutton (Derry City): "Pat's are a good side and they'll ask questions of any team. I couldn't ask for any more from my players. A few of them were injured going into the game but they still wanted to play and they battled through. The first goal was always going to be critical."

Attendance: 17,038

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