FOOTBALL FOCUS: One night at Shamrock Park - one small step in Kevin Doyle’s dream career

Kevin Doyle between Portadown's Cullen Feeney and Wesley Boyle for Cork City in 2005 at Shamrock Park. Pic by Pacemaker.
Kevin Doyle between Portadown's Cullen Feeney and Wesley Boyle for Cork City in 2005 at Shamrock Park. Pic by Pacemaker.
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Of the signposts along a career path for recently-retired Kevin Doyle that covered international miles across club and country commitments, few will recall a single night one April at Shamrock Park.

However, it stands as a small but noteworthy moment in a 16-year life of full-time football for Doyle.

Darren Kelly during his Portadown days. Pic by Pacemaker Ltd.

Darren Kelly during his Portadown days. Pic by Pacemaker Ltd.

The recently-retired 34-year-old attracted acclaim for his industry and eye for goal on some of the game’s grandest stages - in England’s Premier League with Reading and Wolverhampton Wanderers, plus at the European Championships in 2012 representing the Republic of Ireland.

Although largely insignificant in the facts and figures of a career that produced almost 600 games and over 150 goals at all professional levels, Doyle ended up on the scoresheet on what proved his sole competitive appearance on Irish League soil.

Doyle arrived at Shamrock Park on Monday, April 11 in 2005 for the first home fixture in Portadown’s Setanta Sports Cup campaign, the inaugural season of the cross-border competition.

The striker made his mark with 64 minutes on the clock, with that night under the Portadown floodlights providing his sole contribution to Setanta Sports Cup scoring statistics.

Within two months he had left behind the League of Ireland to take those first steps in professional football across the water that would bring a string of individual accolades and key contributions to significant success for his clubs.

Doyle grabbed a goal on the day Reading secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time, just one moment to savour in a dream debut season within English football.

He then finished behind Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas in the PFA Young Player of the Year awards following a first Premier League experience that ended in a double-figure goal return.

Wolves had to set a club record transfer fee to secure his signature in 2012, with a final permanent switch to America’s MLS in 2015 and Colorado Rapids before confirming retirement last month on medical grounds due to issues with concussion.

Darren Kelly (pictured), who played League of Ireland football with hometown club Derry City as well as two periods at Portadown, admits admiration for Doyle’s ability to carve out a career that took the Wexford man to the very top.

“I have nothing but the greatest respect for Kevin and when you look back over his time he deserves enormous credit,” said Kelly, who is now a manager in England with Hyde United. “Kevin had a serious work ethic and was someone who seemed to embrace the challenge the higher he moved up in his career.

“If I am totally honest, he is not someone that stuck out for me back home and even on the night we played Cork at Shamrock Park I was more concerned with other players in what was a really strong City squad.

“But he obviously worked really hard and made the most of his early opportunities then, once in England, embraced that full-time professional environment to improve his talents.

“I watched his career develop in the same way you would with anyone from back home trying to do it in England, plus as someone I had gone up against with Portadown.

“I was probably surprised to hear he had secured that move to Reading but, goodness, did he make the most of it and went on to enjoy an excellent career.”

Kelly shared the Shamrock Park scoresheet with Doyle on that April evening in Portadown that ended in a 1-1 draw.

“I just know he wasn’t my man when he scored, that’s for sure,” jokes Kelly. “We loved the Setanta Sports Cup as it offered us a real test and that Portadown squad included some really good players, with Gary Hamilton scoring the only goal down in Cork when we won 1-0 with 10 men on a night in which no-one gave us any chance of a result.

“We always felt we could match the League of Ireland clubs in terms of technical ability but, as part-time players, fitness would ultimately make a difference.

“In the Shamrock Park game, any pre-match instructions were general in terms of who to pick up at set-pieces and Kevin wasn’t singled out for special focus.

“If going up against a striker I didn’t really know that well I used the first minutes to figure out his style.

“I remember Kevin as someone not excellent at any one area but just strong at everything you want in a striker.

“He was energetic and clever in his runs.

“Looking back on that night in Portadown, Kevin certainly went on to achieve plenty in his career.

“I was sorry to hear of his medical difficulties and hope there are no lasting problems.”