Thursday 27 October 2016

Dooley takes the path less trodden to thrive

Ex-Ireland U20 prop could be in line to make his first start for the Blues

Peter Dooley has travelled a long way in a short period of time. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Peter Dooley has travelled a long way in a short period of time. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Peter Dooley could be in line to make his first start for Leinster in the PRO12 League against The Ospreys on Friday.

He has already tucked away eight cameo performances for Leinster, seven this season, for a meagre total of 132 minutes.

Cian Healy is going through a two-week suspension. Jack McGrath has carried a hefty workload.

Michael Bent is not a long-term answer and Edward Byrne is recovering from serious injury.

This leaves Dooley, already registered for the Champions Cup, as a 21 year-old in need of a test to see how far he has come.

And he has travelled a long way in a short period.

Four years ago, the man from Birr considered moving out of the local community school into the boarding environment at Cistercian College in Roscrea, the town where his father hails from, to develop a semi-professional approach to the game.

"I was approached by the Cistercians a couple of times, I suppose," he said.

"After fifth year was probably the time I nearly went to start the Leaving Cert. I visited it and, for whatever reason, I didn't fancy it. It just wasn't for me.

"I was kind of settled where I was and with the Leaving Cert coming up. I didn't want to upset too many things and uproot everything."


There was also the influence of Tullow's Seán O'Brien, another product of the club system, as the leading example of what can be done away from the spotlight of the Leinster Schools Cup.

"The fact that Sean was already here did play a factor in the decision I made," he recalled.

"I knew the pathways were there," he acknowledged.

"Whether schools or clubs, there is a way to progress in either one. I always thought you won't be lost."

In fact, this season was the first in which the Leinster U19s, a combined school and club entity, had more than 50 per cent of their players come from the clubs background.

Indeed, there is a strange symmetry between Dooley and tight-head Tadhg Furlong, another from the same system.

They both excelled at hurling, Good Counsel's Furlong winning a Tony Forrestal Cup from full-back for Wexford, Birr's Dooley starring at centre-back for Offaly before rugby took hold completely.

"I played a seven-a-side tournament in Croke Park, U16 with Offaly, a year above my age and that was when I was in my prime as a hurler," he issued.

"But then, once I turned 17 and 18, I went down the rugby route and I am all the better for it today."

Dooley and Furlong also share the experience of moving from number eight to the front row in decisions that would shape their embryonic careers.

"I wasn't growing height-wise for the back row. I didn't have the fitness or the quickness by that time," he said.

It was around then Leinster doyen Gerry Murphy made a suggestion that changed his rugby outlook.

"I remember playing in an U18 trial match in Naas and I got a dead leg. I was disappointed. I thought I wasn't going to make it.

"I was walking across the pitch. Gerry came up to me, put his hand around me and said: 'I should think about the front row'.

"At the time, I was (thinking): 'I'm not going in there.'"

The handling skills he embraced from the base of the scrum have aided his development.

"They want 15 ball players around the park," he said.


"That is the way we look at ourselves around here. Everyone can catch and pass and do the basics fairly well.

"In the front row, you're not just there to scrum. You're there to do everything as a bonus to the team overall."

Common sense kicked in and Dooley made super-natural progress to play in two U20 World Cups in his current position at loose-head prop.

Unlike the majority of cases in Leinster, Dooley has had to shed weight rather than gain it, weighing in at one kilo lighter (118) than when he left school.

"Now, I'm in here full-time, with Daniel Davey, the nutritionist, keeping a close eye on me and we also have the Dexa fat scan twice or three times a year. So you're kept on your toes.

"I now pride myself on my physique, being lean," he continued.

"I recall a meeting near my Leaving Cert with Girvan Dempsey when he was head of the Academy. He just said the weight was like carrying excess luggage around the place, you don't need it.

"The way I am now, it helps you getting around the park and that, I'm lean and I feel better when I'm not as heavy."

The fat has turned to muscle; the number eight into a prop.

"In the front row, if you have a good set-piece, you're going to go a long way."

It is a specialist role for people able to thrive in situations most human beings would back out of.

"Then, you have the pressure of the scrum," he stated.

"If you don't perform in the scrum, you're going to be shipped out. That's why I think I prefer it."

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