Tuesday 26 September 2017

Emerging star Dooley gunning for his prop idols

Peter Dooley on the charge for Leinster during last week’s Pro 12 victory over Ulster
Peter Dooley on the charge for Leinster during last week’s Pro 12 victory over Ulster
Leinster's Peter Dooley

Marcus Ó Buachalla

For most of the Leinster players in the squad tomorrow, this will be a first meeting of the season against reigning Guinness Pro12 champions Glasgow, but Peter Dooley and a number of others have locked horns with the Scots already this season.

"It's an unusual situation alright having to play Glasgow twice so early. We've already played the Scarlets twice as well. So we'll be only nine games into the Pro12 and two teams will be scratched off the list already," says the young prop.

"It's unusual in that you are prepping for teams that you played just a few weeks back but the big difference is that Glasgow now have the majority of their World Cup players back so they're even better now."

Scottish teams loom large on the Dooley landscape. There was his debut against Edinburgh in last season's Pro12 and since then he has played Edinburgh again, and Glasgow. Should he make an appearance off the bench tomorrow, it will mean that 50pc of his eight Leinster caps have come against Scottish sides.

The debut in October 2014 is a game and a memory that is still as clear as if it were yesterday for the 21-year-old Birr native.

Heart

"It was Hallowe'en night," he recalls. "When I got the call to go on, your heart starts to beat that bit faster alright and I was just delighted to get the six or seven minutes of play.

"I really enjoyed it, every minute, the build-up, everything. To top it all off we got the win, which was most important, but I soaked it up. Loved it."

The summer then brought with it the promise of a Leinster open training session in his home county, Offaly, but not home club.

"It was still pretty special to train with Leinster on a pitch that I played on many times underage against Edenderry," he says.

"Seeing some of the familiar faces in the crowd of coaches that coached me with the Midlands set-up when I was 15 or 16. . . It was a great occasion.

"We have lads here in Leinster from all over the province: Kildare, Carlow, Offaly, Wicklow etc, so to be able to bring Leinster Rugby into those communities means something to us. You identify with them so much as you were once that kid on the other side of the ropes looking in."

The game against Edinburgh was his only involvement with the senior team last season but it was a campaign full of learning and development with Leinster 'A' and with Lansdowne.

"I've worked with John Fogarty for a few years now in his role with the underage teams and the 'A' team, and then I'd know Girvan for maybe five or six years so I was delighted to see them get the nod with the senior set-up.

"That continuity is good and it is great that it is two home grown coaches that have come up through the Leinster coaching systems and have also played for Leinster at the highest level."

This season the graph has risen steadily for Dooley. Edinburgh. Cardiff. Dragons. Scarlets. Glasgow. Ulster. He has experienced defeat in a Leinster jersey for the first time but has also experienced the high of an interpro win at home.

"That would have been a target of mine, to get more experience while the lads were at the World Cup. But the fact that they are back doesn't mean that I just stop," he stresses.

"I am really enjoying my rugby with the Leinster 'A' team and we've got two wins under our belts in the B&I Cup and I'm really enjoying working under Hugh Hogan and Shaun Berne. And I am still in the mix with the senior team, so that's a huge plus."

There is one omission though. A Leinster start. He's in no rush.

"You have to be patient. There is a method to it as well and feeling your way through different situations and environments, different scrummaging techniques," he says.

"I trust the coaches and the development plan that they have for me.

"I suppose I am lucky in that I come from good breeding! My dad and uncle are big men but a prop doesn't reach full maturity until later in his 20s. I'm only 22 and at the moment I am understudy to Cian Healy, Jack McGrath and Michael Bent - three Irish internationals.

"Of course I would love to be starting but look at the experience I am getting training with those lads. Cian was an idol of mine growing up and here I am learning from him and playing with him.

"I also see huge value in my role. We are a squad of 50-plus players, then a match-day squad of 23 and everyone plays their part. So if I am lucky enough to be selected on the bench I am very focused on my role and what I have to do.

"Modern rugby dictates that you more often than not need a good 50 or 60 minutes from your starters and then you need an impact from the bench."

The scrum came in for much criticism after the Bath defeat but Ulster was a step in the right direction. This weekend against the Pro12 champions is a massive challenge.

Experience

"You want to test yourself against the best," says Dooley. "Last time out it was Zander Fagerson, a young prop, but one with plenty of experience. He got a try against us that night in the RDS and has since made his European debut.

"This weekend they could have Sila Puafisi or Michael Cusack. So again the challenge is there but we feel we are in a good place and that we have addressed some of the issues."

While many don't quite know what goes on in the scrum, everyone acknowledges that when it goes well, it is a potent weapon.

"As a prop or as a pack, the set-piece is your focus. For me as a prop, the scrum in particular is your primary job. There is a bit of the dark arts about it alright but that is fine!" says Dooley.

"But when it does go well I think it lifts everyone: the pack, the backs, the crowd. My first contribution in the Dragons game was a scrum, which went well and we won a penalty. The basics are crucial, your work-rate and energy in the scrum.

"If we get those right on Saturday we won't be far off."

Irish Independent

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