Saturday 14 December 2019

United fan Dooley feeling no pressure ahead of Old Trafford tie

MOVING UP: Stephen Dooley in action for Cork City against Dundalk’s Sean Gannon during the 2017 FAI Cup final. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
MOVING UP: Stephen Dooley in action for Cork City against Dundalk’s Sean Gannon during the 2017 FAI Cup final. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Former League of Ireland footballer Stephen Dooley is used to going to Old Trafford as a fan.

Tonight, for the first time in his career, the 27-year-old goes there as a professional, a member of the Rochdale squad who are hoping that, somehow, they can come up with the kind of result which will make an already-uncomfortable season an unbearable one for Manchester United.

And despite the allure of playing on what will be the biggest stage of their careers the Rochdale crew, led by an Irish manager (Brian Barry Murphy) and with four Irish players in the squad (Dooley, Eoghan O'Connell, Jimmy Keohane and Jimmy Ryan), are keen to be seen not just as tourists there for a day out.

"There is a danger of that, of being distracted, you could find yourself wandering around Old Trafford with your camera phone out," says Dooley, enjoying his first stint of league football in England after spending his senior career in the League of Ireland (Cork, Derry) and the Irish League (Coleraine).

"So we have to guard against that, be well-prepared and be focused. If United do beat us, that can't be because we lacked focus, we will go and prepare well and enjoy it."


Dooley, who was born in Coleraine but supported the Republic of Ireland as his dad (Monaghan) and mother (Cavan) were from south of the border, had an affinity to United as a kid and his move last year to Rochdale, just 20 miles from Old Trafford, afforded him the chance to attend more regularly.

"Me and my mates back home were all United supporters so I have a good few friends coming over from Ireland for the match, they'll be rooting against me as they're United fans," he jokes.

"I can't wait for the game, it will the biggest crowd I'll have played in front of, I played in Cup finals where there was more at stake for the club, when I was at Cork or Derry or Coleraine you're chasing silverware so any final is important but Old Trafford will be the biggest stadium I'll have played in front of."

Dooley only began his career in England last year, at the age of 26, and he's enjoying his spell there.

Forgotten man

"I thought England would never happen for me, at lot of people go across the water at 18 or 19, I went to university in the US instead and didn't move back to Ireland until I was 22, so I was a forgotten man," says Dooley, one of a handful of current pros in England with a degree (Finance, from a US university) tucked away.

"I had to play a few years in the League of Ireland and the Irish League to get going again. It's been tough but a good experience."

In previous times, when they were winning or just competing for league titles, United could afford to look down on the League Cup and not lose much sleep if they lost, even to a side from the lower leagues.

But the current form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made this more important for them, as a loss or a poor showing against Barry Murphy's men would add to the pressure on their beleaguered manager.

"In a way it'd be nice if they did need to win and did play all their big guns, that would give us an idea of how good they really are," says Dooley.

"There's no pressure on us, we're not expected to go to Old Trafford and win, so that gives us the freedom to go and enjoy the experience against a United side who probably do need a win as they haven't been doing so well.

"United have a lot of injuries at the moment so we have no idea what sort of team they'll have out. We work on our own shape, how we think we can limit them. If they are on form they can blow you away so you do your best."

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