Sunday 21 April 2019

Dooley eyes big role in trophy push

Loosehead desperate to get another taste of knockout rugby, writes Marcus Ó Buachalla

Peter Dooley is the picture of concentration in training. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter Dooley is the picture of concentration in training. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Offaly may be going through a tough time when it comes to the exploits of their Gaelic football and hurling teams - one win between them in the league does not make for good reading.

But while the traditional Offaly GAA power-houses are struggling, two other power-houses are forging a different path for themselves.

Peter Dooley and Michael Milne grew up in the same parish of Birr, a field apart, but one hurled with Birr, the other with Crinkle.

However it was Birr RFC that brought them together and now they are both plying their trade with Leinster, Dooley in the senior squad and Milne in the academy.

"Yeah, it's mad the way it played out. His house and mine back on to each other more or less. A field away really," says 24-year-old loosehead prop Dooley of his fellow parishioner.

"Michael is away doing great things with the Ireland U-20s at the moment and they've gone three from three in the Six Nations so hopefully he'll keep that up now in the next two rounds against France and Wales.

"But yeah, for a small parish and the club of Birr RFC to produce two props and both in the system together is something the club can be proud of I suppose."

He mentions the Ireland U-20s but you'd imagine they would be far down his list of priorities right now with a tight three-match block of games to contend with in the Guinness PRO14. Not so.

"I love my rugby. I watch as much of it as I can. Obviously I'm interested in Michael and how he goes but also the other Leinster lads. Harry Byrne is going well, Ross' younger brother, we've a few forwards in there and David Hawkshaw is the team captain.

"Noel McNamara as head coach, we would all know him well from his time here with Leinster 'A' and his work with the academy.

"But I'd say even if there wasn't those links I'd still be watching it. I enjoy watching as much as I can. You take something from every game, little things that you might spot and you can bring that to your own game."

Dooley is starting to bring those things more and more into his own game and like all the players in Leinster, he needs to. After all he is competing with two Lions in Cian Healy and Jack McGrath, and of course Ed Byrne, for that No 1 jersey.

When asked in a recent Q&A what player in his position he admired the most in world rugby, he name-checked Healy and McGrath.

It's not easy to go toe-to-toe with your heroes but he does just that on a daily basis. It's a challenge that he relishes.

"You have to and it's the same for all of us. I don't think there is any position in Leinster that doesn't have an established international or an international of some experience there.

"There are two parts to it. You obviously want that jersey but as a young lad coming from the sub-academy or the academy and coming into the senior set-up in UCD, where else would you rather learn your trade than with players of that calibre?

"I think we work well together, us four, and we drive each other really well during the season and hope that this competition then benefits the overall group. If we can do that and play our part then we can stand back at the end of it all and be very happy with our contributions."

Dooley has played 11 times for Leinster this season so he is already up on last season's numbers, but he would love to get back to the numbers of the 2015/16 season when he played 21 times for Leinster, or indeed the campaign afterwards when he played on 16 occasions.

Regular game-time brings you on and exposes you to different levels and experiences. Good and bad.

"That loss to Clermont in the semi-final of the Champions Cup two seasons ago was a great experience.

"Would I want another crack at it? Of course I would. We lost! But I loved it. The noise, the colour, the atmosphere and really being tested by a class team.

"I think what we learned in that game was the finality of it all. Or maybe when taken with the Scarlets loss a week later in the RDS, we learned a lot.

"That was knock-out rugby for a lot of us for the first time. You can go brilliantly all season, rising to every challenge and then you talk about finals rugby and what that looks like and what that entails, treat it like another game or whatever.

"But it's not another game. It's stark, it's brutal. Lose and you're done for the season and maybe we didn't appreciate that enough.

"Because we certainly felt it after the Scarlets game. That's it, good luck, see you all next season. Lads leave without maybe the trophies their efforts deserve.

"So I think when we look back on that two years ago it definitely created the mindset for last season and hopefully can stand to us this year as well."

The Cheetahs come to the RDS tonight with the hope that they can put any finals rugby talk on hold. A win for Leinster though will almost confirm their position at the top of Conference B and a home semi-final.

"We can't chase anything on Friday at the RDS, we can't chase the outcome. If it happens off the back of a win, great, but that only happens if we perform well and if we prepare in the right way.

"Their back-three are rapid! Some of their tries would belong ion any highlights reel so we have seen enough of them to know that we can come unstuck here.

"They beat us last season so all the signs are there that this will be another good game and hopefully we can come out the right side of the result."

And after that he wants to just keep building and striving for more.

"Definitely. I want to play my part in that end-of-season run-in. This season I have seen very little time with my club Lansdowne and while I miss the lads down there, that is a good sign in terms of my progress at Leinster. Last season was different with the injuries I had and the game time was brilliant in the AIL but this season I am feeling good and playing regularly with Leinster and I hope that continues now into the end of the season."

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