Monday 18 December 2017

Staying power proves virtue for late bloomer Fahey

Former Saints man has shown discipline and courage to make the big time, says Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Negotiations were at a delicate stage. Alex McLeish wanted to sign him and we knew we had to sell him. Fahey was keen to go and his agent wanted him to leave.

I had to get as much as I could for St Pat's, and Karren Brady wanted to pay as little as possible on behalf of Birmingham. She said they had no more money to offer, while I was saying we were financially secure and didn't need to cash in on him. We were both lying and we both knew it. We had turned down their first three bids for Fahey, and talks had broken down twice. I knew there were only so many times we would get away with saying no.

Explaining the nature of the discussions to Keith, and pointing out that a deal was close, I asked him to keep his desire to leave to himself as it wasn't helping matters. He had two years left on his contract, so we were in a strong position.

That night at the PFAI awards, he was named player of the year. While on stage accepting his award, he was asked for an update on his situation. The plan had been that he would swerve the question altogether but, veering slightly from that, he declared he had played his last game for St Pat's. He was right -- the deal was done soon after.

It's pretty much accepted as fact that a return to Ireland spells the end of any chance of a successful career in the UK. 'Once you leave, you never go back'. A few players have made it back across, but very few have really made it work. Most remain in Ireland reflecting on what might have been.

The obvious choice, and the one taken by most, is to blame others. Blame an anti-Irish coach, blame an injury, blame a change of manager, blame your agent, blame homesickness, blame your girlfriend, blame drink, blame bad luck. Or better still, say you weren't that arsed and you'd rather be home. Talk endlessly about the situation, but never accept total responsibility for failure. It's easier. It just is.

In every pub and every nightclub there is someone who was a cruel twist of fate away from making the big time. Some returned to play in the domestic league, some chose to join a non-league team, and some just called it a day. Very few have the bottle, discipline and courage to have another go and risk failing all over again. Confidence is affected, morale is low, ability is questioned, motivation lacking. The begrudgers have been proved right.

When Fahey headed back to England in December 2008, everyone had the same words of advice. He had been given an unlikely second chance. He would not get a third one. He was very aware of that fact, but awareness matters little in these situations. If he was to succeed, every element of life away from home would have to be dealt with. We all thought he had the ability to make an impact, but we also knew he had the potential to struggle with the unknown. He had proved that in his first spell in England.

In one of our many heated conversations prior to the completion of the deal, both he and his agent explained just how determined he was to return to a level of football in which he knew he would be fully tested. There was no talk of 'nothing to lose' by going. He had set his sights on their first team immediately.

Unable to sign until the window opened on January 1, Alex McLeish wanted him over for fitness work during December. Once we ensured we were contractually covered against any injury he may pick up while there, he left immediately. Where others would have sought to maximise their final few weeks at home throughout the Christmas period, his mind had already left for England. If he was to succeed, it was where he needed it to be.

His progress since then has been astonishing, but plenty of work remains. He knows he is not expected to start regularly for Birmingham given the new signings, and he may not have had his chance on Friday had everyone been fit. Given the quality of those he's up against, it's unlikely he will start many games when those out injured return to the squad. I wouldn't bet against him, though. As I know, he's good at proving people wrong.

rsadlier@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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