MIKE Doolan is still waiting for the €20 that Ronnie Whelan owes him.
The night before the West Cork Masters took on the Republic of Ireland Masters in a charity match in Dunmanway in July 2014, Doolan met Irish football legend Whelan in The Southern Bar.
David Hall, one of the driving forces behind the event, looked after the introductions.
‘Ronnie, this is Mike Doolan, he’s the fella who is going to score against ye tomorrow.’
‘I bet you €20 that you won’t score!’ Ronnie quipped.
The football gods took note.
Fifteen minutes into the game, Doolan collected a pass from midfield, turned one way, then the other, lost the defender, and his low shot found the back of the net via a post and the Republic of Ireland Masters’ goalkeeper.
‘The highlight of the goal was actually the celebration afterwards,’ Doolan laughs.
‘Richie Collins was our manager and he said that I should celebrate with him if I scored, so I jumped on top of him and knocked him to the ground – and that’s a fair feat in itself.’
The match finished 2-2. Dunmanway Town’s Johnny Collins bagged West Cork’s second goal. Twice they led, and twice they were pegged back. A fantastic event. All eyes were on Dunmanway that day – and the town shone.
So did Drinagh Rangers legend Doolan, though after the game he had to dry himself with fresh air, as Whelan had taken his towel at half time too.
‘Not only did he take my towel but he still owes me €20!’ Doolan smiles.
He lost a towel that day but it’s the memories that will endure. Playing in the West Cork Masters attack alongside Cork City legend, and adopted Enniskeane man, John Caulfield is one.
‘When I think of John Caulfield, I think of Stuart Pearce,’ Doolan says.
‘They used to say that Pearce was a gentleman off the pitch and as soon as he put on the jersey he turned into a psycho. John Caulfield was the same, a gentleman off the pitch and once he stepped on the pitch he had a job to do. Even that day he was barking out orders. No one wants to lose, especially him.’
Another Cork City icon Patsy Freyne also left an impression on the locals.
‘I had often heard stories about Patsy Freyne in the dressing-room, that he was a tough character. This was the West Cork Masters against the Republic of Ireland Masters – but he was going to war that day. He let rip in the dressing-room before the game, us lads from West Cork weren’t used to a battle cry like that, but he was on fire, getting us jazzed up.’
It all paid off. The Republic of Ireland Masters boasted a collection of legendary figures and former League of Ireland stalwarts. Ronnie Whelan. Niall Quinn. Paul McGrath watching from the sidelines. Brian Morrisroe. Paul McNally. Goalkeeper Tony O’Dowd.
‘I don’t think they expected the West Cork players to be as good as we were that day,’ Doolan reasons.
‘There have been a lot of good soccer players in West Cork down through the years. The day didn’t faze anyone, we all had a job to do and everyone enjoyed it.’
Dunmanway’s successful hosting of that game opened the door for a Liverpool Legends team to take on Drinagh Legends in Canon Crowley Park the following summer. Doolan scored twice in a 2-2 draw against his boyhood club who lined out when Whelan, Ray Houghton, Alan Kennedy, Phil Babb, Jason McAteer. Drinagh then won on penalties.
Again, magical memories for Doolan who played his first adult game for Drinagh Rangers in 1991 when he was only 14 years old.
His career with Drinagh spanned 29 years and he was part of 11 title-winning sides, including the club’s first West Cork League Premier Division title in 2002/03.
In 1992, his second season, Drinagh won the Beamish League Division 1 title, the top local league before the Premier Division came on stream, and last year Doolan helped Drinagh Rangers B complete a league (Division 2) and cup double.
In his prime, he was one of the top forwards in the league and he captained the West Cork League to the 2006 Oscar Traynor Cup final, but now he has hung up his boots.
Years of wear and tear have taken their toll on his knees, his left in particular.
‘I have been told I will probably never play ball again,’ admits Doolan, who turns 44 this month.
‘I was meant to meet a surgeon two weeks ago but with all the Covid-19 stuff going on the appointment was cancelled.
‘I had the MRI done, went back to the doctor and he said there is so much going on inside in the knee he doesn’t know where to start. He sent me straight to a surgeon.’
An operation to clean out his knee will have to wait, but he concedes his playing days are ‘definitely’ over.
‘I was playing against men when I was 14, getting tackled hard, falling on hard ground, and the football fields of West Cork 30 years ago were farmer’s fields,’ he explains.
Doolan was lucky with injuries during his career. He never suffered anything too serious. The worst was when he broke his ankle a few years back playing with the Drinagh Masters team during the summer.
‘I played five games with it broken and never knew it,’ he says.
It was sore, he remembers, but he strapped it up and played away. The initial prognosis was it was a bruised bone, so he took it easy for a few months. The following January, it was still nagging him. He went to Bantry General Hospital where an x-ray revealed all.
‘The doctor asked how long was it like this? I said it was July or August. She said there is an 8mm gap in it now, what was it like back then!’
Coaching keeps Doolan busy now. He’s involved with Drinagh’s Bs, the U14 girls and the club’s two ladies’ teams, so his hands are full, just like the trophy room in his home.
He could charge an admission fee to visit it, floor to ceiling shelves packed with trophies, medals, man-of-the-match awards, clippings from newspapers over the years, but there’s no sign of that €20 that Ronnie Whelan still owes him. Now that would be a collector’s item.