Sometimes you just don’t notice something until it’s not there anymore.
Television programmes getting cancelled, matches being postponed, celebrities passing away – all of them are greeted by the sudden jerk of “Oh. Right. Hmm. Where to now?” Where once lay a constant, a source of reliability that you could always depend on – maybe to the point of taking for granted – now lays nothing, or better still a replacement.
But the replacement is never going to be the same, is it? It could be just as good in retrospect but it’s not the same, reliable constant you knew. As is the way of celebrities or TV shows or matches can also be said of footballers.
More precisely, St. Patrick’s Athletic’s striking ace Christy Fagan. Fagan’s one of those rare footballer’s that you can literally say “scores goals for a living.” We’ve seen them before: David Villa, Miroslav Klose, even Robbie Keane.
Scoring goals is said to be the hardest thing in football and yet these men make it look like childsplay. Another week, another game, another checking of the League of Ireland livescores – Fagan’s scored – rince, recycle, repeat. The sky’s blue. The grass is green. Move on. We go again.
That’s not to say that scoring goals is all a player like Fagan does or to even diminish how hard scoring goals on a regular basis is either. His 20 Premier Division goals last season speak for themselves but his manner of play, the means and not just the end product, is equally as intriguing.
Re-watching all of his goals from the 2014 season, a recurring pattern of an undeniable poacher’s instinct sets in. Very few, if any, of his goals last season required more than two touches of the ball. Being in the right place at the right time can occur with players, but to be in the right place at the right time to score 20+ goals in a single season is no fluke.
Fagan goes about the game at his own pace because he knows, his team-mates know and the fans know that he is going to get his goal. There’s no two ways about it. There is one instance in St. Pats’s 4-0 win over Athlone back in April 2014 when Fagan starts the move by dropping deep into the centre of the park.
Attention is drawn immediately to the untracked run of full-back Ian Bermingham who races through three or four Athlone bodies. If you were told at the beginning of the move who was to score the goal, Bermingham’s the one you’d put your money on as he runs on to Fagan’s through ball.
But Bermingham runs into some trouble and after feeding Conan Byrne, the ball pings and bobbles around and before you know it Christy Fagan, the maker of the move, is putting the ball into the back of the net.
Because he always gets the goal. But this example also draws our attention to the other aspects of the striker’s game. Over the past two to three seasons as Liam Buckley hones and perfects his 4-3-3 system, Fagan has seemingly been the focal point from season to season.
Although Keith Fahey did appear to play as the pivot in the side’s three-man midfield last season, dropping deep and getting the play going, Fagan was always the one – like in the goal against Athlone – dropping deep and receiving the ball from attack with his back against goal.
With this he will then lay the ball off to one of the duos of Conan Byrne & Ger O’Brien, or Chris Forrester & Ian Bermingnham who sweep down the wing and play a timed ball that Fagan will be on the end of.
It is this almost instinctive movement that Fagan plays with that makes him stand apart from other League of Ireland forwards. Playing on the Richmond Park surface every other week for the better part of four seasons means getting a sense of where you are on the pitch at what stage in the game, all in relation to where your team-mates – and the ball – are all the while.
Fagan’s absence has been particularly noticeable this season for St. Pats. Persistent ankle and knee injuries has denied the player a consistent run of starts, meaning not only personal woes for the player himself but also forcing manager Liam Buckley into finding alternatives to last season’s PFAI Player of the Year.
But as we’ve said already, replacements are never going to be the same. Buckley has tried all of Aaron Greene, Ciaran Kilduff, Cyril Guedjé and Jamie McGrath as his main striker. Greene has looked the most promising in the position with six goals in the league while McGrath has shown his undoubted talents would perhaps be of better use on either wing to accomodate his ability to beat a man.
Kilduff’s is the most perplex of alternatives to Fagan’s absence. His signing was rumoured to accommodate a change of formation to play Fagan and Kilduff up front together in a 4-4-2. But with Fagan’s injuries combined with Kilduff’s lack of form and starting opportunities, the combination does not look likely.
And so here we are today. St. Patrick’s delivered what looked in certain stages like an unlikely 2-0 win over Johnny McDonnell’s Drogheda United with Jamie McGrath as the main striker the 18 year-old got his first senior goal for St. Pats in the 93rd minute following Killian Brennan’s opener.
But the game served to highlight Fagan’s absence more than ever. With the wind playing an inextricable part in St. Pats play whereby long diagonal balls to Conan Byrne were not viable on top of Drogheda’s tough man-to-man marking, St. Pats found it difficult to see where a goal could come from.
When Christy Fagan made his first return from injury against Dundalk at Richmond Park back in May, the difference was exemplary. St. Pats looked like the Saints of the second half of last season all over again. Quick movement, decisive passing. Structured, fluid football set to the tone of a 2-0 loss.
But even in defeat the difference was noted. Fagan brings another dimension to St. Pats’s play and without him the Saints look a different team with other players, in particular Aaron Greene and Chris Forrester having to step up to the plate to fill the void where Fagan’s regular goals lay.
But that’s the difference that Fagan brings. Back from injury against Bohemians he scored twice in a 3-1 Dublin Derby win, making sure to celebrate in the faces of the fans that sung his name way back when Fagan was playing in red and black.
Later in the game he was greeted by a chorus of boos any time he touched the ball. The next day I asked a set of Bohemians fans why they were booing him. “Ah he always does it. He always makes sure to celebrate in our faces.”
“I don’t know why he does it. We loved him at Bohs and he was great for us.”
He always does it. Well, Christy Fagan’s always scoring. He does it for a living.