Lockdown Library: ‘I should be proud, but I’m not there yet’by Mark McCadden
It’s first thing in the morning in locked-down Ireland and Keith Fahey is reliving some of his happiest childhood memories.
With a battered old football under his arm he finds a wall, where he performs the same drills that once passed the time between breakfast and the first piercing ring of the school bell.
On other days he takes out his bike and heads to the local park, racing up and down hills and “pulling skids” - just like he did as a kid.
Friday nights have turned into bingo night on the Tallaght street that Fahey calls home. He won a box of Roses during a recent game.
The entertainment is provided by a neighbour, who calls out the numbers from his karaoke machine.
Everyone else plays from their driveway or roadside kerb.
Sometimes Fahey uses that same kerb to keep his football skills fine-tuned - a world away from 10 years ago when he was playing ball in the biggest league in the world and was on the verge of winning the first of his 16 senior caps for Ireland.
His Premier League bow with Birmingham could hardly have come at a grander setting than Old Trafford.
Yet sometimes - back in his native Tallaght and in his old family home, playing the same games he did as a kid - it’s as if it never happened.
He seems more content now than when he was playing 58 times in the Premier League, or winning promotion from the Championship or beating Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final.
His relationship with a career that’s the envy of so many of his peers is complex.
Reflecting on his international breakthrough, he reveals the self-doubt that often left him feeling out of place.
He told the Irish Daily Star: “The way I used to think would be, ah, it’s only the RDS and it’s only Algeria and it’s only a friendly.
“Then I’d be thinking, I’m not going to be in the next squad. That was just the way my head was.
“Every time I got the call I was more relieved than anything. I remember just thinking, I won’t get called back.
“But I’d do well in training generally and in the games I’d come on in most of them.
“I got the 16 caps in a very short amount of time, so the manager at the time obviously liked me.
“Whenever I got on, I’d just try to do my job and stay in and around it, very similar to how I was in Birmingham.
“But I was always thinking, I won’t get called back.
“People would be telling me I did really well, but I’d be, like, ‘No, I don’t think I did’.”
Fahey, who played in the League of Ireland with St Patrick’s Athletic, Drogheda United and Shamrock Rovers, won his 16 caps in just over two short years.
Injury robbed him of a place in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Euro 2012 squad on the eve of their trip to Poland.
Fahey squeezed a lot into that time - including the winner away to Armenia at the start of the 2012 qualification campaign.
His goals in friendlies against Wales and Uruguay made him reasonably prolific for a man that Trapattoni admired for his defensive discipline.
The 37-year-old’s personal highlight was the winner in Yerevan.
“I remember the ball kind of trickling towards me,” he said.
“I just saw the bottom corner and I picked it out. It was a good little finish, because I don’t think I could have put it anywhere else.
”Looking back on it, it’s still a little bit surreal.
“But I find it hard to be proud of it. I’d love to say, yeah I’m really proud of the goal and it means a lot but, again, in my head that’s what you’re there to do.
“You should be proud, yeah, but I’m not there yet. I will be one day, I’m sure.”
His international career and his time in England came to a premature end because of a string of injuries.
A persistent groin problem kept him from Euro 2012, after he had played such a big role in getting there.
“Missing out on the Euros, that was devastating,” he said.
“I started off the season with groin injuries, had an operation and got going.
“I was stop-start that year. I was 50/50 (on being fit), but if I’m honest, deep down I probably knew I wasn’t going to make it.
“My groins were in bits that year, coming from my hips.
“That was really tough, really upsetting, to go and prepare and meet all the boys and meet up before the whole trip and then have to pull out of it.
“There were a lot of tears shed.”
Fahey was due to play against Bosnia in Ireland’s final friendly before heading off to Poland. He knew something was up in training, but soldiered on.
“Then,” he recalled, “I said to the doc before the Bosnia game when we were warming up, ‘Listen, I’m still feeling this, I don’t think it’s right’.
“I went for the scan afterwards and it was torn. That was it.
“We went, got the results straight away and the doc said, ‘I hate to have to tell you this, but it’s gone again Keith’.
“I kind of knew though, so I just couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there.
“I was devastated, devastated. But that was it.”
Almost 10 years on from his debut and Fahey hasn’t dwelled too much on his international career.
“I don’t really (look back on it),” he said. “I remember it being a very uncomfortable time as well. I struggled in and around the hotel for a week.
“I didn’t like being confined to one space for that long, being around the same faces, some you’d like, some you probably don’t like.
“I found that very tough, being honest. That was a struggle.
“I do remember that. It was like a struggle all the time to be there, there were a couple of little clashes with certain people.
“It was, like, get me out of here.
“You’re there to play football, but there is a lot of social stuff that I didn’t really enjoy, that I found uncomfortable.”
But give him a ball and a wall or a kerb, or a bike and some hilly terrain, or a night playing bingo with the neighbours, or his role in the Shamrock Rovers academy where he is now, and Fahey is in his element.
KEITH FAHEY has gone back to basics in a bid to beat the lockdown blues.
The former Birmingham City, St Patrick’s Athletic, Shamrock Rovers and Ireland midfielder has turned to some of his favourite schoolboy hobbies to pass the time.
“I was out at eight o’clock this morning. I took the football out of the house and went over towards The Square carpark,” said the Tallaght native.
“I was just looking for somewhere that might take my fancy to knock a ball off a wall that’s not around houses.
“So, I ended up down in Tallaght village by the Lidl. There is a little area where you can use your imagination and knock a ball off a few different walls.
“I’d be out jogging with the ball too - going back to literally what I used to do when I was a kid.
“To fill my time early on in the mornings, I used to go up and play football before school.
“I’ve a bike there as well, so I’ve been going down the park, going up and down hills, pulling skids and all.
“What else? Literally just trying to relax at times. In terms of anxiety, I can get waves of this - oh God, when is this going to pass through?
“Then I can get waves of just going, relax, relax and enjoy it.
“Getting the ball out definitely helps. When I was a kid, I used to be up in the schoolyard first thing in the morning.
“It’s probably a survival technique for me - I used to do it back then and I still do it now. That’s my go-to - a football. Thankfully it hasn’t served me too bad.”