STEPHEN DOOLEY has explained the reasons behind his decision to quit Derry City in favour of a move to Cork, claiming he ‘needed a new challenge’ after two years on Foyleside.
The 24 year-old Portstewart man won’t have to wait long before making a return to Brandywell Stadium as the ‘Rebels’ visit the Lone Moor Road venue on March 11th and Dooley insists he will have ‘mixed emotions’ about his return to the Brandywell.
That night we played Shamrock Rovers (FAI Cup semi-final replay) was one of the best football nights I’ve had in my life.Stephen Dooley
He also admitted that the departure of his good friend, Philip Lowry - who left for London at the end of 2015 and has now joined Portadown until the end of the season - also played a part in his decision to leave the ‘Candy Stripes’ after some deliberation.
His time at the club was blighted by injury and last season he was restricted to just 14 appearances in the second half of the campaign after sustaining a ‘devastating’ back injury before pre-season had kicked-off.
However, the talented winger, who netted three goals in his time at Brandywell, insists he will forever hold fond memories of Derry, particularly the run to the FAI Cup Final in 2014. “When I came back from America after four years, I signed for Derry City for a year-and-a-half and I was travelling from home up to Derry and it was really good,” declared Dooley.
“I really enjoyed my time there but then I thought I needed a change - something different - and that was a big part of my decision.
“My mum and dad are from southern Ireland and a lot of my family are from the south. A few live in Cavan, Dublin, Monaghan and other parts and a few further down, so maybe they’ll get to see me play a bit more than they would have at Derry which is a nice thing,” he maintained.
“I look back at my time there with mixed emotions,” he continued.
“We got to the FAI Cup Final and I scored on my debut but, unfortunately, didn’t score again in my first season.
“I had a decent amount of assists and got myself into the first team. And that night we played Shamrock Rovers (FAI Cup semi-final replay) was one of the best football nights I’ve had in my life.
“It was a brilliant occasion and the Brandywell was packed. I’ve never took part in a game where the atmosphere was like that. That was a huge highlight and then came the huge disappointment in the FAI Cup Final.
“We never really got going and St. Pat’s were very good that day. It was always good to get to a Cup Final even though we couldn’t deliver.”
After that first season, Dooley had high hopes for the following campaign but was sidelined due to an innocuous back injury sustained while training in the gym.
He finally made his return to action in the closing stages of the campaign with Derry struggling in a relegation battle and with manager Peter Hutton facing the axe.
Dooley’s return did coincide with an upturn in results and performances, however, and he helped in the club’s successful fight against the drop.
But for many Derry City supporters last season, Dooley will be remembered for a series of missed opportunities in that final stretch of games.
“In the second year, I looked after myself and worked very hard in the break and, unfortunately, the week before pre-season started I got a bad injury which kept me out for the first full half of the season. That was devastating. I had to watch each week and couldn’t help out and I felt away from everything at the club.
“Thanks to Mickey Hegarty (Physio) and Pearce Lafferty (Strength and Conditioning coach) - they helped get me back fit and I managed to play most of the second half of the season. Obviously things didn’t go great and it was a tough time with the relegation battle.”
Referring to those missed chances in front of goal, Dooley said: “I’ll take the flak on the chin - it’s well warranted,” he laughed.
“The encouraging thing was that I had about five chances a game. The not so encouraging thing was that I missed them all. So that was an interesting time.
“We managed to pick things up a bit and had a few memorable wins at home against Shamrock Rovers and away to St Pat’s, but we were struggling to find consistent form.”
Dooley formed a close friendship with midfielder, Philip Lowry, during his time at Brandywell and admits the Limavady man’s decision to leave towards the end of the 2015 campaign made him reconsider his own future with the ‘Candy Stripes’.
“Players come and go and you have to try and isolate that when you’re making your own personal decisions,” he explained.
“That can be quite hard if you have a few personal ties and friends and family. It can be hard to make a purely football based decision.
“Philip was a good lad and he helped me settle in and we travelled up and down to training during that first season.
“So it was sad to see him go. I think he was just becoming one of the main players in the Derry team. He scored goals and broke up play but he wanted to do something over in London.
“I wouldn’t say it (his decision to leave) was hugely dependant on Philip leaving but it was obviously easier when he was about.”
As always the league fixture list has a habit of bringing about a few tasty clashes with Derry City visiting North West rivals Finn Harps on the opening day. But it was Derry City’s first meeting with league runners-up Cork City which Dooley had been looking out for.
And he feels it will be an ‘interesting’ moment when he makes his first return to Brandywell as an opposition player.
“I had a look at the fixtures,” he confirmed. “And I knew we played Cork away twice last year so obviously Cork are playing at Brandywell twice this year, so it’s going to mean a lot of travelling but hopefully that means I can get home for a while.
“It will be an interesting game but at the minute I feel like I’m a million miles away from that as there’s a full pre-season ahead.
“I have a lot to prove to people at Cork. However, Cork and Derry usually have good battles and I hope to be involved. Cork seemed to have Derry’s number in recent years but this year will be totally different. So we’ll have to wait and see how that one unfolds.
“Firstly I want to establish myself as a starter at Cork. There’s been a lot of movement in and out of Cork in the close season so there’s places up for grabs and hopefully I can come in and stay injury free and show what I can do,” he concluded.