Peter Dooley gains momentum as journey begins with Leinster
Seán O’Brien’s career path provides inspiration for 21-year-old Offaly man
Leinster’s frontrow forward Peter Dooley in action against Scarlets last October in the Guinness Pro12. Photograph: Simon King/Inpho
Those encounters amount to a series of vignettes that make for an interesting story when the strands are pulled together. The 21-year-old has gone from a position of centre half back on the Offaly under-16 hurling team to the cusp of a first start for Leinster in Friday night’s Guinness Pro12 game against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
The Dooley name is synonymous with Offaly hurling but Peter’s father is of Roscrea stock, and no relation. The young Leinster prop wielded a hurl for the Birr GAA club “but then once I turned 17 and 18, I went down the rugby route and I am all the better for it”.
He was invited on a couple of occasions to swap St Brendan’s Community school in Birr for Cistercian College, Roscrea, on a couple of occasions and thought about it strongly. “After fifth year was probably the time I nearly went. I visited it [Roscrea] and for whatever reason, I didn’t fancy it. It just wasn’t for me.
“I was kind of settled where I was and with the Leaving Cert coming up, I didn’t want to upset too many things and uproot everything. Looking at the youth system, you look at the pathway Seán O’Brien has taken and I managed to share my first bit of time with him on the pitch the other night [against Connacht].
“As I was growing up, you’re playing in the Shane Horgan Cup and now you’re playing with all these players. The pathway is there for players like me and there are more coming behind me, Tom Daly and Adam Byrne.
“The fact that Seán O’Brien was already here did play a factor in the decision. I knew the pathways, whether schools or clubs, there is a way to progress in either one. I always thought, ‘you won’t be lost; you will make it eventually.’”
O’Brien provided inadvertent inspiration for the young Dooley, former Ireland coach and current Leinster domestic team manager Gerry Murphy and Daniel Davey, the head performance nutritionist for Leinster rugby and also the Dublin senior football team, had more overt influences.
Dooley had lined out at number eight for most of his teenage years but, aged 18, was nudged towards a new vocation. He explained: “I wasn’t growing height-wise for the backrow, didn’t have the fitness or the quickness by that time.
“Gerry Murphy and Reggie Corrigan suggested I make a trip into the frontrow. I remember playing in an under-18 trial match in Naas and I got a dead leg. I was disappointed. I thought I wasn’t going to make it.
“I was walking across the pitch. Gerry came up to me, put his hand around me and said I should think about the frontrow. At the time, I was, ‘I’m not going in there,’ [but] I’m very thankful to him for that.”
Dooley recalls a meeting around the time of his Leaving Cert with Girvan Dempsey, the then Leinster academy manager, when it was pointed out that he was carrying excess weight. Davey educated him about his eating habits and the rights and wrongs of nutrition. He is now a trim 118kgs of largely muscle; the regular Dexa fat-scans don’t lie.
“I have had great experiences with Mike. For a forward, he’s very old school mentality. I remember having meetings with him and the first word that came up on nearly every slide was physicality. It’s good for a frontrow forward to see that.”
Dooley has eight senior appearances for Leinster, seven this season, and all as a replacement. That may change come Friday. He understands the priorities that go with his position but there is a great deal more to him than the set-piece; he’s mobile and has good hands.
Dempsey, when asked about the young prop, explained: “Peter’s brilliant, he’s of that fold of guys who have worked so hard, just so professional in how they conduct themselves and how hard they work in the gym, on the field and off the field.
“He got a little bit of game-time this year and he’s stepped up to the plate in his physical size and ability and skillset, and that comes from playing number eight when we discovered him. I remember coaching as a 15-year-old down at Carlow IT. ”
His senior journey is just beginning.