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Fagan's Spanish lessons pay off for Pat's

ST PATRICK'S Athletic star Chris Fagan has taken to European football like a duck to water with three goals in three games - and the Dubliner believes that it was his education in the Spanish game which has helped him establish his own Eurovision.

Fagan's goal away to Bosnian side Siroki Brijeg last week in a 1-1 draw has set up the Saints nicely for tonight's second leg at Richmond Park.

There's a lot at stake in the tie, with a dream draw against Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96 in the next round, Pat's are aiming to keep up their astonishing record of having reached the third qualifying round of the UEFA Cup/Europa League for the fourth time in a row.

They also have a very good home record, as the Saints are undefeated at Richmond Park in European games since 1999.

Former Manchester United man Fagan, who also scored against Icelandic side IBV in the first qualifying round, showed signs of his potential when playing in Europe for Bohemians last season but the 23-year-old is loving every minute of the Euro experience, thanks to his grounding in the Spanish scene.

He spent time at the Spanish-based Glenn Hoddle Academy and also had a spell with lower-league side Jerez, on loan from Lincoln.

"I think that time in Spain really helped me prepare for Europe," Fagan told the Evening Herald as Pat's completed their preparations for the visit of the Bosnians, a groggy Siroki panel only arriving at their Dublin base yesterday afternoon after a long trek via Croatia and London.

"I learned a lot in Spain because the style of football there is the same as you get in these European games.

"I had a decent spell in Spain when I was with Jerez for about six months. They were struggling at the time but I was playing every week and scored a few goals, it was a whole new experience and maybe it's paying off now.

"I learned a lot out there, played in some great stadiums in front of big crowds and it set me up to achieve more in my career," added Fagan.

The man from Dublin's north inner city has been one of the major hits of the 2012 season for Pat's, Fagan finally showing signs of delivering on the potential which made him a target for Manchester United as a 16-year-old. His career has been full of stops and starts since he left United, with unsettled spells in Scotland, Spain and England before the move to Ireland and Bohs last year, Fagan then joining Pat's at the start of this season.

Manager Liam Buckley certainly appreciates the impact that Fagan is making, especially in Europe, and Buckley can see signs of Fagan really blossoming as a player.

"The best of him is yet to come," says Buckley of Fagan.

"He was absolutely fantastic in the first leg in Bosnia last week. For me, having been a centre forward, I thought he was top-notch, and I said to him after the game that if he plays like that every week he'll get a fantastic career out of it.

"His touch was great but so was his work-rate, he was playing with his back to the wall, a very difficult position to play in, but I don't remember him losing the ball.

"Their defender was just trying to take lumps out of him last week and he ended up getting sent off, Chris stood up to everything that was thrown at him," added Buckley.

St Pat's as a club have come to love the European nights, with a real revival in their fortunes in recent seasons, as clubs from Iceland, Kazakhstan, Russia, Malta, Sweden and Latvia have all been dumped out of Europe by Pat's in the last four seasons.

"I think everyone raises their game for Europe because there's so much at stake and I do the same," added Fagan.

"The games in Europe have gone well for me this season and also last year with Bohemians, when I scored against the team from Slovenia, so hopefully I have another good night in me tonight."

Buckley has a settled side to choose from with only long-term absentee Mark Rossiter definitely missing.