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Fagan's pat on the back

EVEN A yellow card as punishment for removing his shirt as part of the goal celebration could not wipe the smile off his face.

Because Chris Fagan has rarely scored a goal of such importance as the one which sent St Patrick's Athletic fans wild and fired the club into the third qualifying round of the Europa League.

They did it the hard way, needing extra time to get past Bosnian side Siroki Brijeg, and there were some tense moments as Pat's supporters, who have been starved of domestic success while feasting on great European nights over the past four years, wondered if the Bosnians could steal a late goal and secure that money-laden tie with Bundesliga side Hannover in the next round.

Nails were chewed, nerves were frayed. But the end result was that flights to Germany were booked. Twenty four years after Ireland played the USSR in Hannover, Pat's head there in two weeks' time. Germany has not been a happy place for Irish clubs down the years -- League of Ireland sides have played 15 times on German soil and lost 14 times.

Yet this Saints side are anything but Euro-sceptics and a trip to Hannover does not faze them.

"I know I got a booking for taking off my jersey after I scored but I wasn't even thinking at that stage. I'd scored a goal in extra time which could have sent us through a round in Europe so I couldn't care less about the yellow card," a delighted Fagan told the Evening Herald.

"It was probably a stupid thing to do but last night was just one of those nights that's so special. It's the stuff of dreams, really.

"I'll get the credit for scoring the goal, but this is all about the lads in the team and it was such a team effort last night."

It's been some week for players with Irish clubs. As Shamrock Rovers and, last night, Sligo Rovers exited the European stage at the first hurdle, this remarkable club managed to go through to the third round of the old UEFA Cup for the fourth time in a row.

Pat's, who left a gap of 41 years between their first game in Europe and their first away win in European competition, have now clocked up an impressive casualty list of clubs that they have ousted.

Last night's 2-1 win may have been nervy at times, but it was deserved. The Saints were adroit in midfield, their well-coached squad -- here's where the backroom men like Trevor Croly can take a bow -- were well able to deal with the tactical changes made by the classy Bosnians.

Five minutes before the break Pat's took the lead, the impressive midfielder John Russell finishing after the Siroki defence had been unable to clear a Christopher Forrester shot.

Pat's, now 2-1 ahead on aggregate, did struggle to build on that despite some enthralling play from Forrester. Will someone in the FAI please, please tell Giovanni Trapattoni or Marco Tardelli to at least show this lad the courtesy of having a glance in his direction because he is going to be a star very, very soon.

You expected the Bosnians to score and they did on 65 minutes -- Ivica Ddidic lofting himself high to head past Brendan Clarke from a corner -- and that goal was enough to send the game into extra time, the first time in the Saints' European history that a game went into an added period.

And it was that man Fagan who stepped up, scoring in his fourth consecutive European tie. It was a free kick from James Chambers -- a scourge of the Bosnians all night -- which set up the chance for Fagan as Conor Kenna got the initial touch and Fagan finished it off.

Fagan will get the headlines and the attention, but last night was a supreme team effort from the Saints. The contribution of others in red shirts should not be ignored. Right backs rarely make waves, but the Pat's right full Ger O'Brien is one of the main reasons why Saints fans were today planning a trip to Germany instead of getting ready for a league meeting with Sligo Rovers on Sunday (that game is postponed due to the European venture).

O'Brien made a crucial, stunning tackle to cut out a serious threat from substitute Mateo Roksam in the 28th minute of extra time. Roksam was bearing down on goal and had his own headlines in mind, only to be denied by O'Brien.

"It was an amazing game," added Fagan. "You had two teams going at it, really trying to win the tie but playing good football.

"To concede when we did mid-way through the second half and then have the game go to extra time was hard.



Deserved

"But the spirit in this squad is something else. Every single player in that side dug deep and we deserved everything we got. I had heard about the experiences Pat's had in Europe last year but to experience it for yourself is amazing.

"The fans were amazing last night, hopefully we can pack out Tallaght next week.

"I hope that nights like last night will change people's minds about the league, seeing an Irish club perform on a big stage last night -- Bosnia are a good footballing country and they were a decent side that we played -- can only do good for the league, if we can get more publicity and more credit."

Inchicore was still buzzing hours after the game last night, a batch of ecstatic Pat's fans hanging around at the exit onto Emmet Road to give each Pat's player a guard of honour and a big welcome.

"We have a chance in the tie," says Fagan. "Hannover are massive favourites and there's no pressure on us. We will be positive and confident in the two legs and see where it takes us."

Joxer went to Stuttgart but the Saints are going to Hannover.