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3 months ago, he was attending big European nights as a fan. Now, he's playing in them

St Patrick’s Athletic defender Tom Grivosti is set to compete in one of the most important games of his career.

Tom Grivosti pictured at Wednesday's press conference.
Tom Grivosti pictured at Wednesday's press conference.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

BEFORE THIS season, Tom Grivosti’s only experience of big European football nights would have been as a fan rather than a player.

The 23-year-old defender was born West Derby in Liverpool, with the family originally hailing from Genoa, hence the Italian-sounding surname. He consequently grew up an avid supporter of the Anfield club, and remains so to this day.

“I was at the [Champions League] final in Paris, and the one in Madrid when we won against Tottenham and I was at the Olympiacos game when Steven Gerrard scored. I haven’t got to many [recent games], because I was living in the Highlands in Scotland, I just get to finals nowadays.”

For the Real Madrid match last May, a huge number of Liverpool fans had very negative experiences, particularly given the well-documented issues getting to and from the stadium, and Grivosti was no exception.

“It wasn’t great. I wouldn’t go back to Paris,” he says.

“Not before the game but after the game we had a bit of trouble getting out. Before the game was much worse, but I was in the ground.

“It’s definitely not worth it when you get beat, but some buzz when you win it.”

Now, Grivosti is hoping he can continue to help create memorable European nights himself for the Pat’s fans.

Knocking a team as illustrious as CSKA Sofia out of the Europa Conference League would be up there with the best results ever from an Irish team in Europe. To put it into context, Pat’s have never progressed to the group stages of a European competition, whereas their opponents have twice reached the semi-finals of the European Cup (1967 and 1982) among other significant achievements.

The former Bolton youngster only joined Pat’s in January but has quickly established himself as a key player. Alongside defensive partners Joe Redmond and Harry Brockbank, he was part of an impressive backline that kept the Bulgarians at bay last week, consistently putting their bodies on the line and clearing the danger against a side who are renowned as being strong on set pieces.

“We watched them a lot. They’re a good team. But we knew exactly how they were going to play and how they were going to try to hurt us. We put the game plan out to a tee early. We knew they were going to try and get balls out wide in the box. We stopped them going wide a lot and when they did get wide, we defended our box brilliantly.

“They’ve obviously got threats. It’s not going to be plain sailing. They’re going to test us a lot again. If they’re still chasing a goal towards the end and there’s only one goal in it, we have to be switched on. Hopefully, we can do the same [as last week] again.”

It would be a truly momentous result if Pat’s can finish the job, and Grivosti — who had a four-year spell at Scottish side Ross County before linking up with the Saints — says this evening’s encounter at Tallaght Stadium is one of the biggest matches he has ever been involved in.

“Just thinking what the atmosphere is going to be like — we were in Richmond three weeks ago [against Mura], there were only 3,000 there and the noise that the fans made [was amazing]. Thinking that there’s going to be 7,000 there tonight, it’s going to be some atmosphere and massive rewards if we go through in terms of who we could get in the next round so it’d definitely be right up there.

“I’ve had really good support from home. My dad and my brother and my cousin came over to the Mura away game. They loved it, unbelievable night for them. That away game [against CSKA] came around too quickly but a few of them are coming over for this game [tonight]. So they’re made up and they’re enjoying it.”

The Saints earned plenty of praise for their impressive first-leg win, though preparations for this upcoming game were disrupted somewhat by the confusion and uncertainty surrounding their recent trip home from Sofia.

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The Pat’s charter flight back to Ireland following Thursday’s game was cancelled, leaving them stranded in Bulgaria for longer than anticipated.

“There was a bit of cabin fever towards the last few days as we obviously didn’t know when we would come back and we weren’t allowed out of the hotel but it was alright,” recalls Grivosti. “We got a good few days of recovery in and we obviously had the pool on site so it wasn’t the worst. After Slovenia [where they played FC Mura], we came back at all hours of the morning so in terms of recovery, it was probably better for us.”

The situation caused some consternation — Shelbourne were critical of the decision to cancel a Premier Division fixture with St Pat’s originally scheduled for last Sunday — and Grivosti says the players were kept in the dark for a long time about the travel plans before they eventually returned home.

“We didn’t have a clue. It was after the game that we asked as we had heard rumours that the flight for the next day had been cancelled. We asked after the game if anyone knew when we were going home and we still didn’t know. It wasn’t until the day before, Saturday, that we knew we were going back.

“Me and Chris Forrester were on the 8.15 flight from Stanstead to Dublin. Lads had to go from Heathrow and all kinds of carnage.

“Luckily Chris Forrester’s missus picked us up from the airport and took me back to my apartment.”

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Paul Fennessy

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