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Sunday 22 October 2017

Fahey wants new chapter

Repeat of Wembley success against Arsenal would suit Saints man for Sunday's Cup final

Saints star Keith Fahey. Picture credit: Sportsfile
Saints star Keith Fahey. Picture credit: Sportsfile

MEMORIES have been milling around in the mind of Keith Fahey this week as the midfielder heads into Sunday's FAI Cup final at Lansdowne Road.

On a big day for a club seeking their first FAI Cup success since 1961, they need their big game players, and while Cup final rookies like Sean Hoare and Greg Bolger prepare for the final at one side of the career spectrum, Fahey has been there and done it before.

The 31-year-old has a winner's medal from a cup final day out, no less a stage than Wembley the scene for Fahey when his Birmingham City side won the League Cup in 2011. He also possesses an unwanted loser's medal, from the 2003 FAI Cup final which was a disaster for the club (Pats were beaten by Longford Town) and the player (Fahey was sent off).

He's also one of the few players involved in today's game who have played at Lansdowne Road in an occasion outside of the FAI Cup final as his last outing for Ireland was at the Dublin 4 venue, when Ireland lost 6-1 to Germany in a World Cup qualifier.

So despite the occasion and the history weighing on the Pats players, Fahey says he will try to drown out the noise and focus on the game, not the occasion.

"If the lads were to ask me how to approach it, I'd say treat it like another game. We're better off going into games when we're relaxed and confident without being over-confident," says Fahey, hoping that Sunday and the clash with Derry can be One Of His Big Days.

"I've plenty of them in me, hopefully I'll have one on Sunday. I'm looking forward to it. In the game you just look to get your first pass in and build from there - maybe get Conan Byrne in down the right or try to open up the defence. That's usually the aim - to build a good platform for the rest of the game. If I do that early, I'll have a good game."

Fahey revelled in the occasion of his last appearance in a major final, for Birmingham when they beat Arsenal in that League Cup final under boss Alex McLeish.

"It was brilliant, he named the team on the Thursday. It was a relief that I was in the team and could relax. I could look forward to the game. Everything just went well that week, the game went well, we went 1-0 up, they equalised and we got a late goal, it was a good memory, I have the medal and the shirt to prove, it was great to have that stuff," he says.

CLOCKWORK

"Everything went like clockwork, the game, the preparation, it went perfect for us. A repeat of that wouldn't be bad," he admits.

But a query about the 2003 FAI Cup final with Pats brings a scowl to Fahey's face, a question filled with "doom and gloom", he says.

"It obviously didn't go well for me, it didn't go well for the club, for the team," he recalls.

"We weren't playing well, we weren't looking like scoring, I think I played left side of midfield where I was probably sulking. I didn't respond too good, it was a stupid tackle. I was a young boy at that stage. I've learned a lot since then.

"I had something wrong with my foot, I vaguely remember a blood vessel in my foot or something like that. But I won't be digging through to remember things, I'm just looking forward to this Sunday."

Now in his third spell with the club, Fahey is more than aware of what is driving the Saints fans on Sunday."It's a winner's medal. It means an awful lot to the fans I know that because the amount of time they've waited to win it," he says.

But a defeat of Derry would also put a gloss on what has been a frustrating season at times for Fahey and the club. He joined them before the 2014 season had started, with Pats in situ as league champions but they surrendered that league title to Dundalk and, after a bright start to their European campaign with that superb draw in Poland, they tamely exited the Champions League at home to Legia Warsaw.

Fahey has battled with injury for spells and he'd have hope for more than a return of 24 league starts and just three goals in all competitions. "It's been tough enough," he admits.

"We had an indifferent start but since the Legia game, we kicked on and had good momentum. Since the Legia games I've played really well. I've been consistent. Before I was playing in a deeper role and it took me a long while to get fit. But I've enjoyed the second half of the season, the last couple of months," he says, admitting that it's not all rosy in the time between his spells at Pats.

"A lot of the stuff hasn't changed in the league, facilities haven't improved, the ground. That's very disappointing, for all the players.

"Yet I'm playing football, this time last year, I wasn't playing football. I had hip surgery and I was wondering would I be able to play again."

Out of contract once Sunday's game is over, Fahey is unsure of his next move. When he rejoined Pats in late 2013, he said the move was not simply a stepping stone to get back to where he had been: in the Premier League and in the Ireland squad.

Now that he has proved his fitness over a season, it would not be hard for Fahey to win a contract across the water once the transfer window opens in January, and his comments of frustration about the poor facilities in the league here could suggest a return to Britain.

"I don't know what I'm doing, I'll play the cup final and see. I'll think about it next week, it's all the build-up to this and then after it see them next week," Fahey says, stressing that success on Sunday is key for the club.

"I think we have to win the cup, for the group of players together. Personally it would make up for a disappointing season in the league. So we have to win it. There is pressure on us from ourselves."

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