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'The joy went out of it for a while': Leinster prop Dooley rediscovers his happy place

‘I went back to what I love doing; carrying the ball, running around and just playing rugby.’

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

FOUR RUNS OFF the bench, 10 starts and, last week, he won his first man of the match gong in the win away to Ospreys.

You might think this season for Peter Dooley has nothing but an upward curve, plain sailing in an unbeaten side.

And yet underlying the steady sequence of ones and 17s on his list of Leinster appearances, there is a more turbulent graph that charts the prop’s confidence and contentment during this campaign.

Holding the number one shirt for five straight starts at the beginning of the campaign is, theoretically, all a pro can ask for. But at the human level, the 25-year-old was not feeling at the peak of his powers. 

“I was trying to work out why these little lads were taking me down when I am twice the size of them and way more powerful,” Dooley recalls.

“I actually had this conversation with my dad last night. I started the first four or five games in a row and was just tipping along, it was frustrating.

“I came on in the home Champions Cup game against Treviso and it didn’t go particularly well and it was frustrating again.”

The loosehead delved into his frustration in search of a solution. Digging at the root of the issue led him towards his younger self and what he loved about rugby.

Back then, Dooley was a dynamic number 8 who revelled in ball-carrying above all else. So with the support of contact skills coach Hugh Hogan, the Offaly man has been able to rediscover a little of that youthful exuberance and channel formative moments to help bring his pro career to a maturation point.

“I always felt like I was a good ball-carrier. When I went in at prop, I went into my shell a little to learn scrummaging and the carrying took a back seat.

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“Playing with the lads if you carry well they will let you into the position to carry more often. Last year I was happy to be an inside or an outside latch, do more of the donkey work. Now I want to carry ball, make yards, (that’s) the fun of the game, and run over people.”

He adds: “I just think that I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. The joy went out of it for me for a while… I just went back to what I love doing; carrying the ball, running around and just playing rugby.

“When I was younger, that’s why I enjoyed it so much. I threw the shackles off a little bit. The last few games….I think I went particularly well over the Christmas in the inter-provincial (matches) and then the last few weeks have been good.

“Before matches I try and remind myself why I went well the previous week. It’s been about enjoying it and letting that pressure valve off.”

Shackles off, Dooley was running free enough to earn the man of the match award from Shane Williams in the win away to Ospreys last Friday. With a refreshed mindset and focus, the number of appearances against his name can now be felt as an added positive

“I have had a good bit of exposure and I’m delighted. A run of games makes such a difference. I found that when I was younger, playing and playing got you that match fitness and it makes such a difference when you are match sharp. To stay trucking now is the thing.”

Pro14 finalists Glasgow come to the RDS to prod at Leinster’s winning streak and Dooley will be revved up and ready again. 

“They pride themselves on their physicality and brutality. That will start with us up front and hopefully it’ll be another one for me on Friday night to express myself.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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