Saturday 25 November 2017

The second coming of Keith Fahey

Washed up at 17, former Saint hails late father after reigniting career

Ireland's goalscoring hero in Armenia, Keith Fahey, goes through his paces at training in Malahide yesterday. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Ireland's goalscoring hero in Armenia, Keith Fahey, goes through his paces at training in Malahide yesterday. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

HAD he been here to witness it, Declan Fahey would have chuckled at the irony of it all.

When he was younger, Declan's volleyball prowess was such that somebody suggested that he might play for Ireland.

Perhaps typically of the man, he spurned the request. For so much of Declan Fahey's life was steered towards a selfless, rather than a selfish, course.

Many, many more have suggested to Keith Fahey over the years that he too would be good enough to play for his country some day; after all, he had progressed through every age level, played in an under-age World Cup.

Declan, his father, was chief among their number. Always had been. Much of his life had been devoted to ensuring that Keith fulfilled that dream. Tragically, his all too premature death only a year ago -- aged just 53 -- thieved him of the chance to witness one of his sons' most glorious accomplishment.

It was somehow quaintly appropriate that just as the young Tallaght man was so utterly filled with conviction precisely when his country needed him in their hour of desperate need, Fahey had not an inkling what he should do just seconds later in that instant of supreme personal joy.

A belated fist pump was acknowledged by those closest to him as a signal of tribute to the man who raised his children as a single father, always putting their needs ahead of his.

"Yeah my dad is probably with me tonight," he acknowledged after his first international strike in just his fourth international appearance since debuting in May.


"But it is a very, very proud moment for me and I am delighted for my family and friends. I always think about my dad and I talk to him regularly. I asked him to come over here with me and he probably did.

"My dad was a big part of my life all through my life. He raised me and my brother on his own so it was hard to lose him. It was only a year now last week, so things are looking up and I am a stronger man this year from it and I am looking forward to putting more into my game this year.

"He had to make a lot of sacrifices. My ma left when I was a young kid and my da stayed and looked after me and my brother, which I don't think a lot of men would. He was brilliant all through the years, everything he did for us."

Fahey was just seven -- his older brother Marc was three years older -- when Declan began to single-handedly raise his family. Keith was already playing ball for Tymon North, starring for the U-9s before his seventh birthday; Dublin's bigger football names were constantly knocking on the Faheys' front door.

Declan went to all of Keith's games but was the antithesis of the pushy dad, an unfailing humility which helped his son emerge from the disappointments of a first spell in English football, via Highbury and Villa Park, that terminated in a maelstrom of homesickness and tortuous regrets.

Washed up at 17, Fahey is, 10 years later, a fairytale representation of not just the advantages of League of Ireland football in developing emerging talent, but also a rare glimpse of how jewels can belatedly sparkle in the often ugly, besmirched world of English football.

Having arrived home from Aston Villa, he could have disappeared off the radar, joining an elaborate conveyor belt of talented Irish youths who parade themselves on bar stools throughout the country, quietly mourning into their pints a speech by Terry Malloy.

He skipped around with Bluebell United for a few months before Eamonn Collins picked him up for St Pat's; in two spells there, the mutual devotion between supporters and player remained intact, even despite a controversial stint at Drogheda sandwiched in between.

Impossibly shy, Fahey was the exact opposite in the St Pat's midfield, a gloriously expressive force. Many more inferior players than he went to England as he had done; Fahey was unsure whether he was pining for a return or lamenting what he once had.

The longer he stayed in Ireland, the harder he worked to recoup his paradise lost. Many recall his headline-grabbing RDS display against Hertha Berlin in the UEFA Cup qualifying competition two summers ago as the catalyst for his return to English football.

Now his industry matched his ingenuity. Those who watched him every week in Inchicore, in a team wracked by ego, mistrust and indiscipline, instead imprinted a memory of someone who worked every blade and once, when seeing a team-mate laugh in the dressing-room, responded with almost Keane-like pride and dismay at decaying standards.

Birmingham rescued him from the despair to ballast their promotion push from the Championship. Yet still his shyness mocked him. Since his international call-up last May, the public recognition has nagged him still more. It's a small price to pay.

His father did get to see him play for Birmingham in the Premier League; although his demise was horrifically swift, he managed some time away from the hospice in Harold's Cross in his last weeks.

Moments before he passed on, he motioned at a picture of Keith in his front room and clasped his hands. Although he had never forced it, one wish had become a reality in the end.

"Something like that knocks you down and it takes you a while to recover from it," Fahey said this weekend. "I talk to him regularly and I'm sure he's with me now. You never fully recover but it makes you stronger. So I will be looking forward to pushing myself on now."

Fahey knows just why it is too trite to say he is getting a second chance at life; but it is a second chance of a particular way of life. "His is an inspirational story," avers his club boss Alex McLeish, albeit Fahey now faces a lengthening queue to regain his club berth.

Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni is not one to gamble and his substitution in the Republic Stadium was partially a defensive ruse as much as an attacking punt. That it led to such an uprising of happiness for Ireland should not be a surprise, especially to those who know him best.

Keith Fahey is always worthy of a second look.

Irish Independent

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