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Lifting the dark clouds at St Pat's

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It’s 51 years since St Pat’s won the cup but, in Chris Forrester, they have a player who can end the drought

1961. It's impossible to discuss St Patrick's Athletic and the FAI Cup without referencing the year. Should they pick up the trophy tomorrow, they won't know what to talk about around Inchicore when the road starts again next May.

Most of the long-suffering Saints fans bound for Lansdowne Road have no idea what it's like to watch their team pick up the Blue Riband, with only a grey-haired minority holding dear the memory of the Willie Peyton goal that swung the 1961 decider in their beloved club's favour.

The survivors remember a different Dublin, a time when the League of Ireland took centre stage on more than one afternoon per year. Their opponents that day, Drumcondra, no longer exist as a top-level side, and the landscape of the sport in the capital has changed.

In the aftermath of Ireland's Euro 2012 humiliation, the post-mortem drew on some sepia-tinted memories, with men like Johnny Giles lamenting the absence of natural footballers.

Giles, like so many of his generation, learned the game on the streets. He grew up around Smithfield, honing the skills that brought him to a higher plain. By 1961, he was in England, doing his locality proud.

Tomorrow, St Patrick's Athletic look to another product of Smithfield to bridge their gap between then and now. His name is Chris Forrester and, unlike so many of his generation, street football made him what he is today.

Minimal

Tomorrow, he will sample the biggest stage that football in this country has to offer. Five years ago, the only arena in which he kicked a ball was the area around the Queen Street flats, in the north-west inner city, a delicate lob away from home. His experience of organised 11 v 11 action was minimal.

"A kickabout with my mates on the weekend," he shrugs. "That was football for me really. I never saw myself making a career from it."

Now, ahead of his 20th birthday in December, he stands on the brink of a different world. Word of his talent spread fast when he was spotted by Belvedere, and then quickly promoted from the U-19s to the first-team set-up at Bohemians due to cash problems that forced a clear-out of senior players.

He is now represented by the same British-based agency that lists rising stars Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling amongst its clients, and a posse of English clubs will be present at the Aviva Stadium for the Saints' big date with Derry City. Sunderland, who sent a scout to watch him take on the Candystripes at the Brandywell a fortnight ago, could be represented by Martin O'Neill.

The scouts have flocked to see a kid who sampled fame earlier this year after his audacious goal against Shamrock Rovers went viral, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers from around the world when it was immediately posted and advertised on YouTube and social media.

Forrester had already slammed home a 25-yarder against the Hoops when a backheel from his neighbour, Christy Fagan, placed him through on goal. Standing at the edge of the box, with visiting 'keeper Oscar Jansson to beat, 99pc of players would have drilled low and hard.

Forrester thought differently and mastered the art of slow motion in real time by scooping his right foot under the ball and lofting it over the hapless Jansson with a flight and precision that Rory McIlroy would be proud of. The 'what's the fuss about?' swagger of the celebration added to the moment.

"It was very cheeky to be fair," he grins, sitting just across from where he executed the goal-of-the-season contender. "It still gets mentioned. Random people say it to me. And it was nice to get that exposure."

The contrast between the impudent resp-onse to the on-pitch brilliance and his shy demeanour in general discussion is striking.

His advisers have picked up on it, and the main feedback from a week with Wolves last year was the need to be more assertive off the park.

When he makes the move across the water -- the timeframe for that is the only matter of debate -- every aspect of his personality will be tested. Critics concentrate on his supposed lack of physical presence, and Liam Buckley often deploys him wide even though he feels that a central role would play to his technical strengths.

However, the real key to the next step is believing in himself as much as other people do. His modesty is apparent as he discusses why he never bothered with the game seriously until his mid-late teens. "I don't think I was that good then," he says, matter of factly. "I think it came on me, somehow. People always say it to me, 'Where did your skills come from?' I don't know. I just worked hard."

In the same breath, he acknowledges that the relaxed environment away from the sometimes cut-throat schoolboy football scene might have shaped his distinctive approach. He was developing his own style without really knowing it.

"Maybe you're right there. That you don't realise you're gaining skills. Around Queen Street, that's where the magic happened," he chuckles. "It's more enjoyable, it's no pressure. Some people do it as an outlet for their emotions or whatever. If they're having problems, they go kick a ball, and they're stress-free.

"You see managers absolutely slating young kids on a Saturday morning, when they only want to play a game of football with their friends. They don't really enjoy it. It's mostly when you're enjoying your football that you improve, and really want to learn."

Moving from Bohs to Pat's was considered the right move for his development, even though he grew up with a fondness for the club he left behind.

The expansive style of play favoured by Buckley is to his liking, and his performances have been rewarded with a Young Player of the Year nomination from his peers in the PFAI. Not every display has matched the standard he set in the aforementioned Rovers demonstration, but then he is only a teenager.

With a year left on his contract, suitors will have to pay for his services. He'll let his representatives deal with that while his football does the talking. The only people he wants knocking on his door are the cocky local kids who fancy a challenge.

"They think they can take me," he says. "I go out and do a few volleys. But yeah, it's good to be kind of a role model for the kids in the area. It's a nice feeling."

Picking up a medal at Lansdowne in front of numerous friends and family would be pretty sweet too.

Before our conversation ends, an obvious question lingers. Would he go for another cheeky lob if presented with a one-on-one? "I'm not sure I'd try again," he responds, seriously. "I think I'll aim for the bottom corner next time."

Really? His expression breaks into a grin. "Ah no, I would, I would," he admits, "If I get the chance, maybe I'll try it."

You'd like to think he'll never know another way.

Derry City v St Pat's Athletic,

Live, RTE 2, tomorrow, 3.30

Irish Independent