Sunday 28 May 2017

Keeping himself in the loop

After a difficult spell with injuries, today's derby clash will focus Kevin Doyle's mind, writes Dion Fanning

This is the extraordinary story of an unusual footballer. "Everybody's lives are like that," Kevin Doyle says as he reflects on those incidents in a lifetime that eventually make up a life. "There are moments when it could have gone wrong if little things had been different. It's strange but if you were to think about it too long it would mess with your head a little bit."

Doyle might think about it today. He will line up at the Hawthorns at noon with Stephen Hunt as a team-mate and Shane Long his opponent in the West Brom side. Long and Doyle are multi-million pound strikers now. Hunt is, well, Hunt.

He is waiting in reception when Doyle comes out from the interview. "Didn't you get enough of us last week?" he says when he sees the journalist he saw in Dublin last week, exclaims something about footballers and their need to be interviewed and is gone with everyone happier for a few seconds in Hunty's company.

Football goes in a loop, Kevin Doyle says, and as he gets older, he seems to go round the loop a bit quicker than he would like.

His career has been improbable. He says he's been lucky but then he mutters the old line about hard work and luck and you realise he knows he's worked hard, that fortune has favoured him but only when he put himself in a position to be chosen. "I'm sure there are a lot of people who worked as hard as me."

When he was 18 or 19 at Cork City, he told himself that he was going to take football seriously for a few years. At 21, he was on his way to Reading, joining the club at the same time as his Cork City team-mate Shane Long and another footballer who had been knocking around the unglamorous clubs on the edge of London town for little reward and even less glory: Stephen Hunt.

The three of them will be on the field today. "It's unreal, it's weird how things work out. We signed for Reading at more or less the same time and we live beside each other now, playing for rival clubs."

He finds it incredible that himself and Long, who pitched up in England as wide-eyed innocents, could have been Ireland's forward partnership last week. "You couldn't have imagined that when we were at Cork, you would have got any odds on it. It would have been nice but there's plenty of time ahead for that."

But there is also the loop and a loop that's speeding up. "Same as anyone's life. I can't believe it's my seventh season in England. It's weird, everything just repeats itself and it's all the exact same, good spells, bad spells, doing this interview with you."

When Wolves wanted to extend his contract, he considered that loop and wondered if he wanted something new.

"I spoke to the manager over the summer and the issue wasn't whether I loved playing here or liked the place, they weren't issues. I've enjoyed every minute of it. But I asked myself would I like to experience something totally different. Then I asked myself, 'What's totally different?' You go to another club and it's the same thing or worse, unless you go to a really massive club. So I thought, I enjoy it here, why take a chance or rock the boat or piss people off?"

Of course he would like to play in the Champions League, but plenty of people would. "Not everyone gets that opportunity. You have to keep believing you can do it but not get sidetracked into thinking that's the only enjoyment there is. I enjoy it here. You get beat and it's a nightmare and it's depressing. But also the enjoyment is in staying up when you're favourites to go down and seeing how the place is changing. I'd love to be here in four years when the new stadium is built."

He understands the club now and knows what the game today means. Doyle arrived at Wolves and had no experience of local derbies so he asked around. One of the kit men told him he had a friend who, after every visit to West Brom's ground, would return home, take off all his clothes and burn them. "First time I'd heard something like that."

Doyle says he isn't restless. "I don't like stress," he says. He hates picking up a paper and seeing his name in it. "I hate being linked with clubs, I hate having anything like that around me."

He still talks to the press after matches but he's made a point of doing less stuff. "If I was looking from the outside and I saw me launching this I'd think, 'Would that fucker ever stay out of the fucking papers, the stupid eejit'. You get sick of seeing people."

When he arrived in England and started to get attention, he loved the idea that somebody might fly him to Ireland for the day on a promotion.

"It's great for a year or two but I'm sure people are sick of seeing a footballer or a rugby player standing beside two blonde girls launching another thing."

So he keeps a low profile and sees no reason to change it even if Ireland qualify for the European Championships.

After drawing Estonia, Doyle asked his team-mate, the Serbian international Nenad Milijas, about them. "He said they should have been ahead of them. Serbia played poor against them and in his opinion, we should beat them. It's surprising for us to be favourites."

Giovanni Trapattoni won't allow that favouritism to settle within the squad.

"He'll take it more seriously than any of the others. I'd agree with him on this one. We are favourites but it doesn't mean anything."

The Irish mindset, he says, is designed for a backs-to-the-wall trip to somewhere like Paris or Moscow but he thinks Ireland have done well in this campaign, beating the teams they were expected to beat. They are now expected to beat Estonia.

"They'll be looking at it thinking they've got a chance of going to the Euros, they won't be too worried about us."

Doyle was sent off for the first time in his career at the Aviva last Tuesday. Like a lot of players, he doesn't sleep well after a game but this incident went round in his head.

"If I'd have caught him properly with an elbow and seen him down on the ground with blood pumping out of his head that would have been one thing. But when you know you haven't done anything."

There have been plenty of frustrations this season. Wolves go into today's game having lost their last four matches and Doyle has also been in the middle as Trapattoni and Mick McCarthy had their say about his knee.

"It hasn't been as frustrating for me as it has been for the two managers. Things get misinterpreted. Mr Trapattoni said that he didn't think I was fit, not my knee, that was fine, but just match sharpness and I think I'd agree with him on that. I think it came across that he was saying I was still injured and by the time it gets over here and the manager hears it, he thinks he's saying that my knee isn't right. I spoke to the Irish manager and he meant sharpness and I still feel that myself. I'm fighting to get back to the level where I'd like to be."

Doyle injured his knee initially playing against Macedonia in Dublin. He came back at the end of the season but immediately injured it again. Now, he says it's fine but there is the mental recovery, the "half a second" of doubt that wasn't there before.

"At the start of the season, you'd tell yourself to do something and it wouldn't do it, whatever my brain is telling my left leg. Mentally, there's a bit of a block, especially after doing it a second time."

Trapattoni has changed his forwards, using four different partnerships in Ireland's four matches this season. Doyle thinks he can play with any of the strikers in the squad. "I don't see myself as an out-and-out target man." But he wants to play with Long, he wants that event on the loop.

"Sometimes we're just as in the dark as you," he says with a smile as he talks about Trapattoni's methods. "I couldn't have told you Sunday who was playing on Tuesday. If you'd ask me to put money on it, I'd have said Shane was going to play."

So Doyle doesn't try to work it out. Trapattoni's new contract isn't a subject that interests him. "I like the manager and I'm sure if we get to the Euros it will be done but it won't make me go into those games thinking any differently."

Instead he will do what he does. He'll keep working hard and he'll keep finding the luck that comes with it. The suspension will be used as time when he can strengthen up his knee and he'll hope to come back for an electric night at the Aviva.

Some things don't help his injury, he says, like three-hour bus journeys. You ask him about the long night's travel back from Andorra and Doyle answers in a way that is utterly predictable and totally unusual.

"Whatever way you do it, you think maybe you should have done it the other way, especially with footballers. We'll moan about anything. If they'd got us in a feckin' jet straight off the mountain and got us back to Dublin in 20 minutes, somehow we'd moan. We'd feel sick that it was going too fast."

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