There, the emigrant from Ardrahan, Co. Galway, would fiddle with the antenna on the roof until such time as an audible signal came through the radio, and together the Dolans could sit and eavesdrop RTE’s live sports program. They’d hang on every word of the Gaelic football, hurling or soccer commentary being relayed, and wait impatiently for any of the results pertaining to Galway teams to be announced, their collective mood linked to the wins and losses that were announced.
Like so many other children in England then, the Dolan twins grew up with English accents framed by Irish sensibilities, their sporting prowess offering them a unique outlet for their dual identity. As soon as they were old enough, West Ham United and Arsenal signed them up as apprentice professionals and then the country of their parents, the place where they spent six weeks every summer in Galway and Donegal, came calling. Eamonn marked his debut for the Irish youths’ side with a splendid hat trick against Northern Ireland, and although he was good enough to represent the Essex Under-14s at cricket, soccer and rugby, Pat became so passionate about the green jersey that after one loss to Scotland, a journalist found him hours later still crying about the result.
Eamonn’s career at Upton Park didn’t pan out quite as well as his early progress suggested it might, and eventually a battle with testicular cancer forced him to retire from playing to become a coach at Exeter. Pat’s stint at Arsenal was equally disappointing, never recovering from falling foul of George Graham. After an unhappy spell at Walsall, Pat began flirting with the League of Ireland. A loan period at St. Patrick’s Athletic was followed by a transfer to Galway United, and a season with Shamrock Rovers. Far from the glamorous world he must have imagined professional soccer to be as a child, he nevertheless embraced it. Seeing opportunity where others saw only mediocrity, he became player/commercial manager of St. Pat’s on his 22nd birthday.
Last Friday, Dolan finally took his leave of St. Pat’s, ending a 15-year association with the club, and headed south. After days of speculation, he left the outfit he and a few others, including Brian Kerr, had brought back from the brink of extinction, to take over at Cork City. A sad day for the people of Inchicore, it was an occasion of rejoicing in Ireland’s second city. Dolan is an outsize character who will bring enthusiasm, charisma, and a wonderful madness with him to Cork. He is an articulate spokesman (brazen enough to start describing Richmond Park as “The Stadium of Light” at a time when it barely deserved to be called a stadium), a good tactician and an excellent wheeler-dealer. Despite his success at Pat’s — the team won one title with him as manager, another with him as chief executive — his ambitions were always limited by the fact that Pat’s were competing for sponsors and fans with three other major clubs in Dublin. In Cork, he will be producing the only show in town.
Notwithstanding the fact St. Pat’s made a few costly registration errors on Dolan’s watch, it is largely the mismanagement of various administrators that has kept the National League from punching its weight for nearly three decades. Visionary types — like Dolan and Bray Wanderers’ Pat Devlin, to name but two — are few and far between, and chancers seem to flourish too easily. For the domestic game to regain some of the respect it enjoyed in the ’70s, and for clubs to stop going bust at the rate of one per season, it’s imperative that regional population centers like Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick are home to competitive teams that operate on a sound financial footing. To be national, after all, a league needs more than a few local derbies in Dublin to sustain it.
Through Dolan’s relocation to Turner’s Cross — a ground where excellent crowds of 6,000 filed in half a dozen times during the season just gone — we may just have a situation where potential meets ambition. Last summer, Cork augmented their squad by bringing home talented youngsters who were languishing in the lower divisions in England and Scotland, offering them the chance to play for less money closer to home. It’s a clever policy that is the way forward for the National League. Until the clubs themselves can offer a proper alternative to the 15-year-old heading off to Manchester or Liverpool, pursuing a thousand-to-one chance of glory, they need to persuade those guys for whom the dream hasn’t quite panned out to come back.
Apart from allowing talented kids to rehabilitate themselves in a more forgiving environment, the quality of soccer will improve and the fans will have teams they can identify with. From Cork to Donegal, supporters like nothing less than cheering a side peopled with journeymen pros from England and Scotland, trying to wring a handy few bob in the closing stages of their careers. Since George Best’s ill-fated spell as a guest with Cork Celtic in 1976, too many Irish clubs have bought into the idea of importing players from across the water, the vast majority of whom were literally only there for the beer.
“In an ideal world I would be looking for players from the Munster region who will be interested in representing Cork City,” Dolan said at his inaugural press conference. “I am fully aware of the tradition, history and enthusiasm of everybody and everything associated with this club. Bohemians and Shelbourne are a step ahead of the rest at the moment because of their structures. but, with the help of the fans, the players and the board, it is my ambition to make Cork the best club in the country.”
The National League will be a healthier place if he can pull that off.