Sunday 22 April 2018

Meet the Leinster rugby star who could have hurled for Offaly

Peter Dooley is set to make his first start for Leinster against Ospreys this Friday Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Peter Dooley is set to make his first start for Leinster against Ospreys this Friday Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

That Birr native Peter Dooley, destined to start for the first time in Leinster colours away to Ospreys this Friday, is not any relation to the eponymous Offaly hurling dynasty evokes, initially, a large sigh.

But, wait; there is a back story; one, indeed, that might have seen him line up alongside his Tullamore namesake, Shane, for the Faithful's hurlers at the weekend.

From the soft, boggy land where Pilkingtons trump Dooleys, the aspiring St Brendan's College man couldn't but allow each unfurl without a hurl; until he was 15, the then No 8 was more highly regarded with a sliotar than an oval ball.

"I played a year above my age with the county U-16s," says the admittedly self-effacing 21-year-old. "That was when I was in my prime as a hurler.

"But then once I turned 17 and 18, I went down the rugby route and I am all the better for it today."

Still, for all his outstanding underage prowess with the small ball, the odd-shaped pig's bladder would become his sole focus as many rugby schools, including the rapaciously ambitious Cistercians in Roscrea, eagerly pursuing their path towards Leinster pre-eminence, looked to get him on board.

Dooley would not be for turning.

"I was approached by the Cistercians a couple of times," he recalls. "After fifth year was the time I nearly went. I visited it and for whatever reason, I didn't fancy it. It just wasn't for me.

"I was settled where I was and with the Leaving Cert coming up, I didn't want to upset too many things and uproot everything.

"Looking at the youth system . . . you look at the pathway Sean O'Brien has taken, and I managed to share my first bit of time with him on the pitch the other night for the first time, so it paid off.

"As I was growing up, you're playing in the Shane Horgan Cup and now you're playing with all these players. The pathway is there for players like me and there are more coming behind me in Leinster, the likes of Tom Daley and Adam Byrne (both country club cousins too, as well as housemates).

"The fact that Sean O'Brien was already here did play a factor in the decision I made. I knew the pathways were there, whether through the schools or clubs, but there is a way to progress in either one. The main thing was that I always thought you won't be lost, you will make it eventually. Once you have the talent."

Dooley had the talent, as current backs coach and erstwhile Academy boss Girvan Dempsey once witnessed at first-hand when he saw the then No 8 as a raw and rugged 15-year-old in an open session at Carlow IT.

"He's stepped up to the plate in his physical size and the ability, skill-set that comes from playing No 8," says Dempsey of a player who has made seven senior appearances this season, all from the bench.

Dooley was always eager to make his presence felt; as his ability expanded, though, so did his waistline.

His mother's cooking may have been one of the reasons why he didn't join a boarding school; it also didn't suit his new lifestyle as an aspiring rugby pro.

"I had a lot more excess weight than I perhaps needed when I was in the U-20s," he says.

"But now I'm in here full-time with Daniel Davey the nutritionist keeping a close eye on me and we also have a fat scan twice or three times a year. So you're kept on your toes.


"I now pride myself on my physique now, being lean. I remember meeting Girvan when he was head of the Academy. He just said it was like carrying excess luggage around the place, I didn't need it.

"The way I am now, it helps you getting around the park; I feel better when I'm not as heavy.

"A lot of it was eating at the wrong time. When you're young, you think you should eat all the time to fill up and get bigger and better. Now you know more about what you are eating and why you are eating it."

Still, he didn't restrict himself to salad on Christmas Day.

"I don't get home that often so when I do my mother spoils me rotten," says Dooley, who is virtually the same weight - 118kg - as before. Except now he is firm, not flabby.

His ballooning had coincided with his arrival into the Leinster Academy and the encouragement of former Leinster prop and then scrum coach, Reggie Corrigan, as well as former Ireland coach Gerry Murphy, to move into the front row.

"I played an U-18 match in Naas and got a dead leg and thought 'oh no, this is the end.' Gerry put his arm around me and said, 'I see a future for you in the front row…'"

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Irish Independent

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