Fago's pride in appearance record
Gavin Peers makes a landmark appearance number for Sligo Rovers tonight as he becomes one of 14 players to hit the 250 appearance-mark.
Tony Stenson, Johnny Armstrong, Raffaele Cretaro, Gavin Dykes, Harry McLoughlin, David Pugh, Martin McDonnell, Chris Rutherford, Conor O’Grady, Gerry Mitchell, Paul Fielding, Mike Savage and Padraig Moran are part of that illustrious list of players that shape a history and still curate a past.
But one stands head and shoulders above the rest.
In 590 games, over 200 more than Stenson in second place, Tony Fagan spent two decades with Sligo Rovers through highs and lows, euphoria and heartbreak and possesses a title of the most influential on-field figure ever associated with the club.
It is a record that will be very hard to break, but one he never set out to make.
“When I joined, my only wish was to play for Sligo Rovers,” Fagan said.
“That was it and I never thought it would last 20 years. I remember making my 500th appearance in Dalymount Park and you only really think about these things when your career is over. When I was playing it never really came into my thoughts.
“I was sorry I didn’t make the 600 but I was proud to be a local lad to play for his club. Joining from the boys club, that‘s all you wanted and you‘d be playing in the street beside The Showgrounds and you‘d be playing all the time with your friends growing up wanting to play for Sligo Rovers. There were no plan to make records.”
Fago’s story is one that tells much of Sligo Rovers’ history.
Spirit and fight, sometimes in despair, sometimes when there was no choice but to just keep going.
Nothing came easy and it took tremendous loyalty and motivation to keep chasing the elusive prizes, while still knowing he was playing for the club that meant most.
A career ebbed and flowed but ultimately provided the most sweet of wins.
“When I joined in 1967 full-time players were starting to come in with the manager Tony Bartley and they would bring you on because they were full-time. We got a lot of knocks on the way.
“I always thought it was unfair we had to play three finals against Bohs in Dalymount Park in 1970, which is their home ground. It wasn’t fair really. There was a lot of times that when people look back now over my time, they forget some of the dark days and the hard times.
“It wasn‘t about trophies. It was about trying to survive in the league. It was year-to-year and you had to keep fighting. And they were tough times but we got through them and I was proud to try to do my best for the club.
“Getting the league was special. We had a very small panel. Billy Sinclair came in and did a great job with the full-time players.”
It is quite easy to associate Fago’s record with the past and a previous era in football, but this week we see comparisons across the water.
Ryan Giggs could make a 1000th senior appearance against Real Madrid and that remarkable feat shows it is still possible to reach milestones.
The comparisons almost end there truthfully, but the achievement of making such an impact at a club is the same is all levels of the game.
“Sometimes when I see players kissing the jersey, I look away.
“I never went to kiss the jersey because I didn’t have to. I knew how I felt.
“They kiss the crest and they might kiss a different one the next season.
“If you look at someone like Giggs who you mentioned, he stayed with Manchester United because the club was successful.
“If they weren’t winning league he may not have lasted the 1000 matches. I got the rewards with the cup finals and the league and it was fantastic.”
Now taking his seat in the members section in The Showgrounds as a supporter, the title win in 2012 allowed some of the team of 1977 to come together again and remember that season with the club.
Part of the joy of last year’s triumph was also to draw more memories of that first league crown.
“It was a long time waiting to come around last year. There is pressure on now, more compared to when I played, for the team to be successful because it is happening every year but I think they are up for it.
“The players are well-looked after and look after themselves. The whole preparation and the rest is very different to my time. We were having two pints in the warm-down and it‘s very different now!
“The game has changed too. Players would be tackling in ways you don’t even dream of now. You would stay up even when a player went in on you, just so you wouldn’t get them the satisfaction of going down.
“But I think the football was good and might not have got the credit for it and it’s similar to how it is now in that factor. It was nice to get part of the team together again and see the league trophy come back to Sligo again after 35 years.”
250 down and more than that amount to go for Dubliner Gavin Peers after tonight - the secret in Tony’s eyes is how the defender has become part of Rovers’ rise to challenging for honours on a consistent basis and has not ruled out some more milestones for Peers.
“Gavin is a good player and he fully deserve to reach 250. He probably never thought he would be here for that long. He can make a lot more and I think players will stick around if things are right. Sometimes we have had problems with holding onto players and now they see there are not many better places to go. He hasn’t had to go anywhere because Sligo is one of the best places to be.
“The player turnover was huge in my times. Sometimes when I’m in the stand in The Showgrounds now and someone might tap me on the shoulder and say hello and that he played with me for two or three games.
“I might not know their name because the way it was, I played with hundreds! That’s how things just were.
“Wherever I go, people always remind me and talk to me about it and it’s nice, I never planned to make all those appearances, but I’ll take it. It’s nice to have a record and I hope I am remembered for the football I played and someone who just started wanting to play for the club and went from there.”