Champions League Qualifiers: Focus on St Patricks Athletic

St Patricks Athletic

As Legia Warszawa begin their attempt to become the first Polish team to qualify for the Champions Leaue in eighteen years, the first team to stand in their way is 2013 Irish champions St Patricks Athletic. They may be an unknown quantity to many in Poland; but luckily, friend of EKSTRAKLASAreview Stephen Pollard is here to tell us what lies ahead for the Wojskowi.

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On Wednesday night, a part time side from South Dublin will walk out at the 31,500 seater Pepsi Arena to a surely hostile reception from the Legia faithful. But do they even know who St Patricks Athletic are? Well I am about to tell you!

The Saints were founded in 1929 but did not enter the upper echelons of the Irish game until 1951. They won the league title that season and twice more before the end of 1956. A rout then ensued as Pats did not again taste league glory till the fall of the Soviet Union. They enjoyed another prosperous period in the 90’s, winning four league titles in the decade. After becoming league champions again in 2002, they became the nearly men of Irish football, twice finishing runners up before lifting a ninth league title in November of 2013.

Some of the most famous names to don the red and white shirt are: Irish football legend Paul McGrath, fellow Ireland international alumni Curtis Fleming, current Aston Villa full back Enda Stevens, Ireland striker Kevin Doyle, Guam international and current San Diego Flash winger Ryan Guy, even England’s world cup winning keeper Gordon Banks had a spell with the Saints. In the current squad Keith Fahey is a former Irish international is the most notable name, a famous name in the squad is Pat Jennings, the son of the former Arsenal legend of the same name.

So far this season, the Saints have made a game attempt at holding on to their crown. Key to that, have been winger Conan Byrne and the league’s top scorer, striker Christy Fagan. Byrne, at his fourth Dublin club in Pats, has brought his game to a new level this season. He is strong, with bags of pace and industry, having added a more consistent base of goals to his game this season has helped him to establish himself as one of the league’s top wide men along with Gary McCabe of Shamrock Rovers. Tomasz Brzyski will have his hands full with the Dublin native, as he works hard defensively to protect the teams skipper Ger O’Brien who is an extremely accomplished operator in his own right.

Fagan, a former Jerez industrial player, alongside his stints with Hamilton in Scotland and Lincoln City in England. He originally returned home to line out for Pats cross city rivals Bohemians, but after a single season with the Gypsies, he moved south of the Liffey to join the Saints. Since then he has found the form which helped parachute Pats back from a once relegation threatened position under the stewardship of Jeff Kenna. Before the mid season break, Fagan led the scoring charts with 13 goals, Byrne in second with ten. He will line up in the striking role on his own, with Chris Forrester on the left (One of the top young talents in the country) and the aforementioned Byrne on the right.

Further back in midfield, boss Liam Buckley has an embarrassment of riches in the sense of quality. Keith Fahey is back from his time in England, but has flattered to reach the heights he once did before leaving Richmond Park for Birmingham City, where he lined out in the triumphant Carling Cup winning side against Arsenal. Since then, he has suffered from a loss of form, persistent injury niggles and physiological issues. The Dublin native will be hoping he can rekindle a once so bright flame if Pats are to progress.

Defensively, their strong suit last season, has been a weakness so far this time round. The loss of influential skipper Conor Kenna to big Dublin rivals Shamrock Rovers has hit the Inchicore side hard. In 33 games last season, the Saints conceded 20 goals on route to the league title. This season they have already given up 24 goals in just 19 games, something unthinkable last season. They do still have the league’s best fullback in Ian Bermingham and centre back Kenny Browne, who is one of the classiest operators on the ball in the Irish game.

In all seriousness, even the most optimistic of Saints faithful is just hoping to keep it tight in Warsaw, in an attempt to bring the game back to Dublin with something legitimate to play for. In my humble opinion though, as someone who watches both leagues and sides weekly, Legia should easily dispatch of this season’s Saints side. Last season may well have been a different story.

For Legia fans travelling to the fair city for the return leg, the game is no longer being played at St Pat’s Richmond Park Ground. Instead it has been moved to the much bigger and more modern Tallaght Stadium, home of Shamrock Rovers. To get there is simple, you get a red line Luas tram from the city centre headed for Tallaght, and it is the last stop.

Stephen writes for Irish sports website Extratime.ie, and can be found on Twitter here.

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