No Pats on the back just as Keith Fahey starts again

Keith Fahey knows the question is coming and is ready with a firm interception.

No Pats on the back just as Keith Fahey starts again

“I’m not thinking about it, to be honest,” he says when the issue of his future as an Irish international is raised. “I know you have to ask the question but I’m back to play football for Pats.

“I’m not thinking about internationals — I know everyone else seems to be – but I’m not. I’m only thinking about getting back playing football for Pats and looking forward to that.”

The return to Inchicore of a player with recent Premiership, Championship and international experience under his belt has been the biggest story of the League of Ireland close season. The 30-year-old last played for Ireland in the infamous 1-6 defeat to Germany and now, after a long and challenging spell out of the game through injury, he is reluctant to look any further than getting back into competitive action with the Airtricity League champions.

But his manager Liam Buckley is prepared to speculate a little more.

“Is he any different to what he was 18 months ago, playing-wise? — I don’t think so,” he says. “If he’s to fit into Martin O’Neill’s plans then great. I spoke to Martin O’Neill recently and he said he’ll definitely be taking in some of our matches — now this was before we signed him — so if he came down and saw something in Keith that got him in the squad two years ago then, maybe, but I don’t know whether he will. The first thing is that we need to get him playing for Pats and see where it goes from there.”

It was Fahey’s move to Birmingham City from Pats in 2009 which first brought the Tallaght man to the attention of Giovanni Trapattoni but, having made a significant contribution to Ireland’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2012, a groin injury robbed the gifted midfielder of a place in the squad for the finals. Having returned to the Birmingham team the following September, he was then given extended compassionate leave for personal and family reasons which he continues to keep private. After resuming training with Shamrock Rovers, he returned to St Andrews in February last year but in April was ruled out again for the rest of the campaign with a hip injury which required surgery. Then, at the end of the season, he parted company with the Blues – and found himself in the lonely position of trying to get back in the game without the support of a club.

“It’s been very, very hard,” he admits. “I’ve had to do all my rehab, pay for my own operations and things like that. It’s a team game but not when you are out in the cold with no club, when you are trying to get yourself fit. It’s not a team game then. I haven’t had a club since June. I had hip surgery at the end of May, and all my rehab was done on my own, back in Tallaght.”

Suddenly he found himself facing a very different kind of opponent...

“I was down in Bushy Park a lot,” he says. “I like it there, there are nice hills for different types of training. I had an experience a while ago, dogs were robbing my (training) cones when I was doing my drills. I just said to myself, ‘I can’t handle this any more’. You are trying to keep the head and a woman was trying to get the cones back from the dog, and then another one comes over. That was when I started questioning it.”

A recent spell back in England spent training with Sheffield United ended with yet another setback, when he broke a toe. Since then, he has looked into the possibility of going to Singapore or Australia and reveals that, closer to home, he also had informal talks with Shamrock Rovers. But, because of his emotional attachment to Richmond Park, he says there was really only ever “one club for me in Ireland – and that’s Pats.”

His goal now is to be fit enough to put himself into contention for a starting place for the league kick-off away to Cork City in March. There is no summer escape clause in his contract because, he says, he thinks it would be unfair to walk out on the club in mid-season. Nevertheless, he is not ruling out a return to England.

“My long term plan is a short term plan,” he says. “I’m not coming home to settle, I’m not coming home to go back. I’m not decided. I’ve not played in an out and out passing side since I was with Arsenal. If I have a good season, play well and I’m happy here, that will be most important for me.”

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