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Recall a Spur for Doyle

THE FA Cup. Source of dreams, provider of nightmares. Dubliner Michael Doyle has seen both sides.

Like an FA Cup fifth-round tie two years ago, when the midfielder captained Coventry City against West Brom. Former Cherry Orchard man Doyle was sent off and Coventry lost. Five-nil. At home. "Thanks for bringing that one up, I had tried to forget that result and that day," he says.

But there have been happier times, far happier times, since then. Like three weeks ago, when Doyle and his Leeds United team-mates went to Old Trafford, played Manchester United off the park and came away with a well-deserved 1-0 win.

That's why, this weekend, Alex Ferguson's side are playing a league game (against Hull) as they no longer have an interest in the FA Cup while Leeds, from the third tier of the English game, are preparing for another away day against a Premier League side, this time Tottenham at White Hart Lane.


If that 5-0 drubbing at home to West Brom was a low point in a career which has seen Doyle, 28, play in England, Scotland and Denmark since he left Dublin as a 16-year-old, then the win at Old Trafford was a highlight as it gave him renewed hope that the unexpected can happen. It's even reignited his once-faded ambitions of playing for his country again -- so he can stop being a one-cap-wonder.

"Winning at Manchester United that day, it was such an amazing game, an amazing result and an amazing feeling," Doyle told the Herald as he prepared for tomorrow's clash with Spurs (5.15pm).

"No one gave us a chance going there -- someone told me that we were 12/1 at the bookies to win the game. Just the same, no one gives us a real chance away to Spurs in the Cup tomorrow. We know we're underdogs, we know Spurs are favourites, and no matter what happens tomorrow, winning promotion is the main aim for us this season. But the Man United win really has given us belief that we can do anything if we put our minds to it," added Doyle, who feels that the United win has given his whole career a shot in the arm.

At the start of this season, things didn't look so bright, with club or country. With two years left on his contract with Coventry City, Doyle was allowed leave and join Leeds on a season-long loan deal, the move necessitating the drop of a division.

With Ireland, things were even more bleak, as he had not even been in an Ireland squad since 2006, but with confidence coursing through his veins since the Old Trafford success, Doyle has started to dream again.

"I wouldn't say that I'd completely given up on Ireland, but I thought it was probably never going to happen for me again," he says. "I had been out of the frame for so long and now I was playing in the equivalent of the Third Division.

"But going to Old Trafford, playing well and winning the game has made me think 'maybe'. I know it's not on the agenda for now, I am playing in League One and there's no way Ireland are going to pick a player from that division. You see how well the squad did in the last qualifiers, you see the quality of players who can't get into the squad now, so it's understandable that a player in the third division wouldn't stand a chance.

"But playing at Old Trafford and winning the game really made me think that it could happen again, if I can play well on that stage for a big team like Leeds -- and this is a massive club, we're getting crowds of 30,000 most weeks, bigger than many of the Premier League teams -- then maybe I could do it for Ireland again, if I can get into a higher division with my club.

"So if I can help Leeds get promoted, if I am with Leeds in the Championship next season, then I'd like to think I'd have a chance with my country again," added the former Celtic player.

"Beating United was great for me personally, the best result I've had in the Cup so far. Last year we had a decent Cup run with Coventry, we beat Blackburn and got to play Chelsea, lost 2-0 but gave a good account of ourselves.


"But the United win was something else. It was a great game to play in, a real old-fashioned Cup tie. People were saying it was like a game from the '70s. It was great to play in and great to watch. There were tackles flying in but they were all fair ones, there was no rolling around pretending to be injured. If you got hit with a tackle you got up and went to win the ball back, it was the kind of game you love to play in.

"And even better because we won, we had 9,000 fans at Old Trafford and we gave them something to remember."

The win at Old Trafford was a career high for most of the Leeds players, and it made the season for many of their supporters. But some worry if the season peaked there as Leeds have not played well since dumping United out of the Cup, a concern ahead of tomorrow's game at White Hart Lane.

"It's hard to explain. One day we go to Old Trafford and beat a very strong United team, in the next game we draw at home to Wycombe, the next week to go to Exeter and lose. And then we lose at home to Carlisle in the League Trophy," said Doyle.

"That's football in a nutshell, you have the high of winning away to Manchester United and then the real low of losing to Exeter. We've had a couple of bad performances now and we need to do better against Spurs.

"I'm really looking forward to this game tomorrow, I've never played at White Hart Lane before and it's a place I always wanted to play. It'll be a hard one for us, Spurs have struggled against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United this season but they are very strong at home and I'm sure they'll fancy their chances against us.

"If we play like we did at Old Trafford we have a chance, but if we play the way we did in Exeter, we'll be out of the Cup. Promotion is still our main aim for the season but a Cup run would be great too, so hopefully we can get another win tomorrow."

Doyle's future is uncertain: he's on loan to Leeds for the rest of the season, after that he has to deal with the fact that he has a year left on his contract with Coventry. The situation will be assessed in the summer, but as things stand he'd love to make the move to Leeds a permanent one, especially if, as planned, the club are promoted to the Championship for next season.

And he still has those ambitions with Ireland. Doyle did at least manage to get a place in the Ireland squad and even a cap: promoted to the senior squad for the first time by Brian Kerr for a friendly in Poland in 2004. He was an unused substitute four times before he finally got a chance, coming on as sub in the 1-0 win over Holland in Amsterdam. After that, nothing.

Under new boss Steve Staunton, a former team-mate at Coventry, he got another chance and was back on the Ireland bench, for a friendly at home to Chile. But he was frozen out after that, and it hurt.


"I know there are lots of players out there who want to play for Ireland, anyone who is Irish and playing football would love to get a cap, but what happened later on was embarrassing, it was laughable," says Doyle.

"I think the last straw was when the team went to the USA for those two friendly games (in 2007) and the way the squad was picked. You had lads who were playing for American college teams, players who were in the reserves at their clubs. I had just played 50-odd games for Coventry and I couldn't make the squad.

"After I was on the bench for Chile in his second game, Steve Staunton told me I was in his plans and he wouldn't forget me, but he must have been down to 200 on his list of players when the squad went to the US and I wasn't there.

"I know they were only friendlies but it would have meant the world to me to win another cap, and I wasn't given the chance. It seemed to me as if every Tom, Dick and Harry was in some of those Ireland squads and I didn't get a shout. It wasn't really a fall from grace for me as I was never at the top in the first place. I only ever got one cap.

"And I'm not going to get too hung up on it. Things went well for me and the team in the United game a few weeks ago. I could have a stinker against Spurs tomorrow and we could lose badly. That's football, it can bring you up and right back down again.

"All I want to do is play for my country again. And if a cup run with Leeds United this season plays a part in making that happen, then this will have been a good season for me."