With very inconsiderate timing, the Energia All-Ireland League final took place in the midst of Caolan Dooley’s final exams in Business and Law at UCD, which followed over the ensuing, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, four days after the final.
So, in the aftermath of contributing 30 points to their 50-24 win over Clontarf at the Aviva Stadium, while the rest of the Terenure squad celebrated long into the night (and several more) the man of the match slipped home discreetly by midnight.
He wondered whether his team-mates might still be celebrating four nights after the final, but he needn’t have. Dooley expected to catch up with about 15 of his team-mates in the Horse Show House in Ballsbridge after his last exam but when he and his fellow students emerged from the RDS he saw them on top of a truck chanting: “Thirty points! Thirty points!”
“I thought: ‘I need to get out of here’,” admits Dooley, who was suitably embarrassed, but describes it all the same as “a brilliant memory”.
It atoned for the self-imposed curfews, although recalling how several thousand descended upon Lakelands Park on the night of the final, Dooley says: “Where else would you see that happen?
“You could just see how much it meant to people. My two uncles went to school and they were almost in tears when we got back with the trophy. It meant a huge amount to all of us, but you could tell it meant that little bit extra to all the lads who had played minis and gone through the school, like Stephen O’Neill and Harrison Brewer, and Mick and Adam Melia, because they had been there their whole life, and won very little.”
The 23-year-old Dooley is back home this week in Newcastlewest, where he started to play mini rugby in the local club from the age of five. The third of four kids to Pat and Bébhinn, who run a pharmacy in the town, his older brother Rossa blazed a trail in both Newcastle West RFC and Glenstal Abbey, when Dooley also attended.
He was on the bench when in fourth year for the 2017 final, before scoring a try when Glenstal won their first Munster Schools Senior Cup in 79 years of competing when beating CBC 18-17 in the final a year later.
Dooley played outside the team’s star man, Ben Healy, at inside centre that day before reverting to outhalf the following season.
“We did kicking sessions together and when I was in sixth year he [Healy] came back to coach and to be honest I’d attribute a lot of my kicking to Ben, and what he taught me, just simple tips to think of, and watching him kick I do think he’s the best kicker in the country.
“I’d obviously be biased, but if any young person wants to get into kicking, he’s the one to watch.”
Much to Dooley’s disappointment, there was no Munster interest in him.
“I don’t want to exactly say: ‘Oh, Munster under-age were wrong’. I classify myself as a better player now than in school, more of a late developer.
“Of course, you want to represent your province but it just didn’t happen. It was tough, I won’t lie to you, in sixth year not getting anything, even being involved in a training session. But while it was a chop on the shoulder for me, you can’t hold on to it too much.”
In the meantime, there is Munster’s quest to end their 11-season trophy drought in tomorrow’s URC final against the Stormers – Healy’s last game for the province.
“It’s been too long,” says Dooley. Recalling the early season run of defeats, he adds: “They finished fifth, which was kind of miraculous in a way, but now they’re in a final. I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Hopefully they can do it. It would be lovely for Ben to get a trophy before he heads on.”
Seán Skehan, Dooley’s then schools coach before moving to Dublin and joining Terenure, was a significant influence in him joining the club in 2019 rather than Trinity. That said, his mum hails from Terenure and as well as his two uncles, his grandmother lives across the road from Lakelands Park.
Dooley’s 11 from 12 haul in the final featured eight penalties and three conversions. “It seemed like the kicking tee was constantly on the field,” says Dooley, who didn’t realise how many points he’d scored until informed after the match.
On top of 20 points in the semi-final, this brought his tally for the campaign to 181 points, on foot of which Dooley was named the AIL Division 1A player of the season.
“I wouldn’t necessarily have played my best rugby, I just kicked very well, and we came out the right side of results,” he admits candidly. “I probably played better last season but my kicking has been much better this season.”
Dooley has an internship this summer in Dublin before heading off to Argentina with the rest of the Terenure first-team squad for a three-match tour, which they have self-funded, on July 23rd.
He and a few others will then head on to Brazil for ten days, and Dooley has a semester from September to December, although nothing planned beyond that save for the new Terenure mantra, ‘we go again’.
“Terenure winning it for the first time matters to Terenure people, but if you can win it back-to-back, you join an elite club. The ceiling is still there to be reached. We haven’t got there yet.”