Author: Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport.
11 years on and over 120 goals later, Eoin Doyle is back in the League of Ireland after his transfer from Bolton Wanderers to St.Patrick’s Athletic was completed last week. A three-time Cup winner (2x FAI Cup, 1x League Cup) with Sligo Rovers during his two years in the West, spells in Scotland, Wales, and England with clubs such as Hibernian, Chesterfield, Cardiff City, Swindon Town and Bolton Wanderers just to name a few saw 33-year-old Doyle carve out a reputation as one of the deadliest marksmen operating in the UK lower leagues over a number of seasons.
However, a desire to finish his playing career back where it all started in the League of Ireland was always high on Doyle’s list of priorities along with giving his children more time around family back home as well as having one eye on his fledgling childcare business, Lily’s.
Facing the media for the first time since announcing his time in the UK had finally reached its conclusion, Doyle spoke of how quickly the move came together with St.Pat’s chairman Garrett Kelleher playing a key role in the deal.
“(Coming home) Is always something I wanted to do, I got the call off Mr.Kelleher over the Christmas period and things started to move fairly quickly and when it became a possibility it’s something I jumped at”, said Doyle.
In the club’s official press release last week, Doyle is said to have signed a “long-term contract” with St.Pat’s with rumors of a three-year contract widely circulating which left some doubters questioning the wisdom in handing a player on his mid-thirties such a deal. However, the former Shelbourne, Shamrock Rovers, and Sligo Rovers striker revealed a big factor in his decision to leave the UK now despite being mid-season and still under contract with Bolton Wanderers was so that he could still give his best upon returning to Ireland.
“I didn’t want to come back at 36 or 37 and be just picking up a wage, especially the way the league is going, it’s going from strength to strength, I could see that last year with the streaming service, it’s a young and energetic league, it should be competitive and I’m excited”, remarked Doyle.
Despite losing some key players such as Robbie Benson, John Mountney, and Sam Bone who all followed ex-head coach Stephen O’Donnell down the road to Dundalk and the departure of on-loan Liverpool goalkeeper Vítězslav Jaroš who has returned to his parent club, it seems the Super Saints have done extremely well to attract Doyle to Richmond Park with several clubs in the UK, Ireland and further afield all attempting to secure the strikers signature during the January transfer window.
“There was loads of other interest, without wanting to sound big-headed there were 6 or 7 clubs in England and an offer from India, which I seem to get every transfer window because of my goals record”, joked Doyle who had been linked with a move to Dublin rivals and former club Shamrock Rovers.
Having bagged six goals already this season for Bolton, who currently sit 18th in League One, it may have seemed strange so some that the North-West club would have allowed one of their key players to depart at such a crucial stage of the season but so they did and with all the best will in the world according to Doyle, who revealed he left on such good terms the club asked him to send word back on any hot young talents he may come across back in Ireland.
“There was a conversation on my way out the door about any good young lads I come across to give us (Bolton) a shout. I left on good terms and can’t thank them (the club) enough for that, so anything I can do to help I will, it’s a great club”, said a clearly thankful Doyle.
The former Cherry Orchard and Crumlin youth went on to reveal that should he have a bit of luck in the scouting department it is a potential post-playing career path he might look to explore further.
“This (scouting) could be something for me if I’m any good, throwing an eye on players and recommending them”, said Doyle who went on to explain another large factor in his choice to move back to Ireland now was being able to focus more on his childcare business.
“The childcare business was a big factor in me coming back as well, I kind of wanted to be on the ground for that and make that the best service it can be and help it grow, so all things are clicking into place”, explained Doyle.
Of course, Doyle is not the only striker St.Patrick’s Athletic fans will have high hopes for in 2022 with Tunde Owolabi also arriving at Richmond Park following a successful spell with Finn Harps. Owolabi’s 10 league goals played a major part in keeping the Donegal men in the top-flight last season and despite only having trained with his new teammates for a couple of days, Doyle revealed he has been impressed by what he’s seen from Owolabi on the training ground.
“I’ve seen a bit of him (Owolabi), he looks athletic, plenty of pace and power, a real handful”, is how Doyle described his potential new strike-partner while Owolabi’s former Harps team-mate Dave Webster just happens to be a cousin of Eoin Doyle with the reports being passed back on Owolabi very positive according to the Dubliner.
While Owolabi will of course be expected to make a big impact this season, it is Doyle who will perhaps face the greatest scrutiny of any striker in the league given his record in the UK and the fanfare that has surrounded his arrival back in the League of Ireland. Having scored 50 league goals in his last two-and-a-half seasons in the UK, Doyle is extremely likely to be the bookmakers favourite for the top goalscorer award in the League of Ireland next season but when asked about dealing with such pressures Doyle responded that he enjoys it.
“I’m kind of used to that pressure the last few years, I enjoy it, I’ll just go out and try my best, this is the part where I tell you I’m only as good as the service I get, to try and put some pressure on the lads around me, but it has the makings of a good season, the squad is coming together and by the way we’ve been training it looks like it’s going to be an attacking team and from talking to Tim (Clancy) it looks like we’ll be very attack-minded, so it bodes well”, insisted Doyle.
Despite having spent over a decade outside of the domestic game here in Ireland, Doyle revealed he has always kept a close eye on the League of Ireland with the introduction of LOI TV during the pandemic allowing him to see plenty of games last season and Doyle feels he can see big improvements in the game here during his time away in the UK.
“I’ve always kept a good eye out, I watched a lot on LOI TV and could see a big improvement in how teams play since I left, that gave me the desire to come back too, hopefully it (the title race) can bit tighter than last year, it’s a young energetic league and teams will take points off each other, it should be competitive”, was the conclusion of Doyle on the current standard of the league here.
Not a player keen on revealing personal or collective targets and goals, especially with manager Tim Clancy listening in, Doyle was asked directly if he felt the group could build on last season’s runners-up finish and FAI Cup success by going one better and winning the Premier Division title. The question brought a wry smile from a man clearly ecstatic at the opportunity to return home at a stage in his life and career where he can still show the very best of his abilities that helped make him a fans favourite in the UK, but as for future career paths perhaps politics or poker could be options given Doyle’s response of
“We’ll be competitive, I can tell you that much.”
Audio of Kieran Burke’s chat with Eoin Doyle can be enjoyed below: