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A fresh nursery for boys in green

Dunne and Keane showed way for Tallaght

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Richard Dunne. Pic: Sportsfile

Richard Dunne. Pic: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Richard Dunne. Pic: Sportsfile

It's a country thing and not a Dublin tradition to light a bonfire to welcome home a team or manager after a success on the field of sport.

If the tradition was there inside the Pale, Tallaght would have been ablaze an awful lot recently. Right now the manager of the senior international men's team (Stephen Kenny), the captain of the women's side (Katie McCabe) and the country's all-time international goalscorer (Robbie Keane) are from Tallaght, as are the managers of the League of Ireland champions (Vinny Perth) and FAI Cup holders (Stephen Bradley) while the Tallaght-based Rovers were top of the Premier Division table before Covid-19 halted football.

Tallaght Stadium is the go-to place for major soccer events in the city, outside of Lansdowne Road, old haunts like Dalymount Park and Tolka Park outdated in comparison, and the whole football world fixed its gaze on that part of Dublin 24 when Cristiano Ronaldo made his first appearance for Real Madrid there.

This Herald series began by covering football in places like Ringsend, North Wall, Phibsboro and Cabra, football's roots going back to the 1890s, while the backstories of Liam Brady and Ronnie Whelan touched the 1950s. But Tallaght, which only became home to Shamrock Rovers in 2009, is still fresh territory.

"Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne were a couple of years older than me but I didn't really have people to look up to. Tallaght was still a new place when I was growing up, you just thought about playing football yourself, maybe you didn't have those old traditions but football was still strong" says Keith Fahey, one of Tallaght's graduates to the Ireland senior side.

The country's most-capped player and record scorer, Keane, has always stressed and never hidden his background.

"I come from Tallaght. It's a great area, a tough area, you have to be mentally strong," he said in 2017.

"A lot of shit happened there when I was younger. Don't get me wrong, around the world there are way worse things happening, but I can only go on what I've seen - robbed cars on the street and drugs and stuff like that. For me growing up there, I didn't know anything different.

"You had to look after yourself, there were fights on the street and you had to be strong. You couldn't back away from people.

"You couldn't show that weakness where people would try and bully you, so I definitely get it from there, and also from the love of playing football."

The lack of regular football activity has brought Keith Fahey, now retired from playing but a coach with the Rovers U-13 side, back to where it all began.

"Everything is closed so I'm out playing on the road, kicking a ball against a wall or the kerb like I did when I was a kid," says Fahey, who grew up in Old Bawn.

"That served me well when I went on to have a career. I was good at football technically and I think the stuff I did early on helped me. Even having a football was a coping mechanism for me, I always felt more comfortable when I had a ball with me. I did the things that you need to force kids to do today but I just loved football, the way the ball moved. I'd be out kicking a ball an hour before school started. I'd play kerbs, squares, anything to work on my touch, heads and volleys, using your mind to work out what to do with the ball."

Fahey learned how to play with local club Tymon Bawn and progressed to Cherry Orchard, earning a move from there to Arsenal but early days made him, even street games.

"I loved those matches, playing for your road against someone else's road," he says. "It gave me a real lift to get picked, knowing that someone wanted you. I don't know how the games worked as we had so many players on each side."

Richard Dunne has a similar tale. "That was where you learned the game, playing on the street. You're 10, you are playing against 13-year-olds, you have to stand up for yourself, get back up when you get knocked down," Dunne says.

Jason Byrne won nine major trophies and two senior caps in a stellar career but he also had roots on the streets of Tallaght, playing with his younger cousin, Robbie Keane.

"That's all we did, that's all we knew - you'd play football every day," Byrne, from Brookfield, said in 2016. "It was mostly in Glenshane, where Robbie and most of the lads lived. That was great training for us all. There were no referees or people telling us what was right or wrong."

Fahey found he'd gone as far as he could with Tymon Bawn after U-12 level and went to Cherry Orchard, though the Orchard had been chasing him for some time.

"I loved playing with the lads I grew up with. I had to move on, though I had great times there, I'll never forget them as I had some of my best days with Tymon Bawn, just enjoying your football, with your mates, with no pressure on you," added Fahey, who came home to star for St Pat's after that first teenage spell in England and would win 16 caps under Giovanni Trapattoni, a highlight scoring the winner in a Euro qualifier in Armenia.

Richard Dunne grew up in Tallaght (Killinarden) but never played any organised football there as family links lured him northside, to Home Farm.

"There wasn't much football in Tallaght when I was young and I started going to Home Farm when I was seven or eight. I think Tallaght Town were there but the likes of Sacred Heart and Killinarden only came along later," Dunne recalls. "My uncle, Theo, was manager at Home Farm so it made sense for my dad to take me there."

Future Ireland boss Stephen Kenny was another young footballer who left Tallaght to find a path, joining city-centre outfit Belvedere as a 17-year-old prospect, after spells with Bluebell United and Lucan's Hillcrest.

Current Rovers manager (and a former Hoops player) Stephen Bradley is another Tallaght native but he too needed a move, to Lourdes Celtic, to get away to Arsenal. And cousins Robbie Keane and Jason Byrne started out with Fettercairn United but moved on to Crumlin United.

Clubs did find time to grow in Tallaght, a strong presence from the likes of Sacred Heart, Tymon Bawn, St Maelruan's, St Mark's Celtic, Fettercairn YC and Jobstown Celtic among others, and Rovers' presence in Tallaght is also an anchor.

"Rovers are so important to the area," says Fahey, a former Rovers player now on the coaching staff. "In my group, the U-13s, it's a welcoming environment for kids to come up and train, to go away with a smile on their faces. It's great for Tallaght to have Rovers there."

But there are still battles, for space and for the attention of a generation addicted to screens. "Now all the good local players go to Shamrock Rovers and I don't think the likes of Cushlawn or Knockmore have teams any more," says Richard Dunne.

"You have pitches in the park but any time I'm home I don't see anyone using them. There was a green in front of our house, where I used to play, but they built houses on it last year, another shame."

Fahey also has cause to regret what's lost. "I walk around the area a lot and, before the coronavirus obviously, I wouldn't see as many people out playing," says Fahey.

"I'd walk down through the Dodder, I remember seeing Tallaght Town and Millmount playing there, you'd have Aylesbury and Tymon Bawn. I remember tournaments where Aylesbury would play Tymon Bawn once a year, every age group, but a lot of clubs don't have teams in all age groups now.

"We had no mobile phones, no internet, it was a case of 'get out there and play and only come home for your dinner'. It was simpler. But Tallaght is still where I am from, that'll never change."