Sunday 18 March 2018

Doolin hoping to make move to higher level

Republic of Ireland U19 manager Paul Doolin. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland U19 manager Paul Doolin. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / Sportsfile

Seán Ryan

Paul Doolin selects his last under 19 team today after six years in the job, and the opposition couldn't be more appropriate, as his team take on England in St George's Park, the FA's national training centre. With the 19s, Doolin (right) amassed a fantastic record. From 37 qualifiers, of which 28 were played away, his teams won 15, drew 10 and only lost 12.

His teams qualified for the elite phase five times in a row, and in 2011 reached the European semi-final, losing to Spain who were on their way to their fourth win a row. Most of that squad are still active and two of them - Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady - are in the senior squad that qualified for Euro 2016. Another, Matt Doherty (Wolves), is in the squad for the Slovakia match.

Qualifying for the under 19 finals is a big ask, as only eight teams out of 53 countries (and one of the eight is the host) make it, whereas at under 17 it's 16 in the finals; under 21s, now 12, and seniors, 24. "It's a huge task," he says, "because when you qualify for the elite phase you have to play at least one of the big countries, with only one to go through." And sometimes the margins are very thin. "The team, which are now under 21s, never lost an international, and we played Germany, Slovenia, Switzerland and Serbia. The difference was the butt of the post. Seán Maguire hit the post when we drew 0-0 with Serbia, and they went on to win the group, the European Championship and the under 20 World Cup."

When it comes to what the job requires, Doolin says: "First of all, you have to be a very good coach. The work myself and the staff put into it, we picked players to fit into what we wanted to do and the way we wanted to play, which was an outstanding brand of attacking play, defending when they had to.

"Then the players have to have values representing their country. I've come across some I haven't used, which had nothing to do with their playing ability, but they were bad for the group, so I wouldn't use them."

The group he is selecting from for the England game were in the European under 17 finals in Bulgaria last year. "They played England and lost 1-0, and in a friendly before Christmas in Waterford they beat the Czech Republic 4-0, so they're a good bunch," he says.

The decision to step down is his own. "Six years is enough, I need a different challenge. I've been successful at every level as a player and a coach, and I would like to coach at a higher level. The biggest thing going for me is I can get results. Unfortunately, no one ever rates Ireland. While I'm hopeful that someone will give me an opportunity, I'd never be presumptuous."

The main reason he thinks he has improved as a coach is because of the quality of the opposition. "Players we've come up against are going for €6-7million at 19.

"In that regard, we're not competing on a level playing field. As a League of Ireland manager, you might get four European games a season, while with the 19s every game is like that, so you learn a lot."

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