Interview

Alan Doherty: The Louth GAA star, Ardee St. Mary's stalwart and Dundalk FC FAI Cup finalist

One-to-one with Alan Doherty

Caoimhín Reilly

Reporter:

Caoimhín Reilly

Email:

caoimhin.reilly@dundalkdemocrat.ie

Alan Doherty: The Louth GAA star, Ardee St. Mary's stalwart and Dundalk FC FAI Cup finalist

Alan Doherty (left), 1995 Louth senior championship final man of the match, with Ardee St. Mary's captain Brendan Kerin. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)

Alan Doherty was hot property in the mid-1990s as Ardee St. Mary’s won the last of their senior championship titles. A fresh-faced 23-year-old, he was dynamite in attack for the Deesiders as they defeated St. Patrick’s to land Joe Ward for the first time in two decades.

He was a dual star, having played for Dundalk FC in the 1993 FAI Cup final before rising to fame on the Louth team competing in the following year’s Leinster Championship, scoring 2-3 on his home debut against Carlow.

Silverware would avoid him, however, until that day in Dromiskin when the Páirc Mhuire charges got their hands on the prize which had evaded their grasp in both 1989 and four seasons later.

“The game probably switched on the goal,” Doherty recalls, from his Liverpool home. “I can remember Seán White, who I would have been very friendly with, missing a free to draw the game and we went down the other end and scored a goal; it was a four-point swing early in the second half.

“But the following year, the Pat’s beat us in the first round of the championship - that’s how tight football was around the mid-’90s. Stabannon and the Joe’s were very strong, the Clans, Roche, etc. Any team around that time who put a run together could easily have won the senior championship.

“We’d damn all injuries that year as well and that helped.”

His last game in Marys’ royal blue was the 2007 championship quarter-final defeat by Newtown Blues. There have been plenty of visits back in the meantime, the 2016 decider defeat by Sean O’Mahony’s just one.

“I would still feel a part of the Mary’s family,” he adds.

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Democrat: “In terms of your other finals, which of the defeats sting most?”

Alan: “The Pat’s in 2003. That still hurts to this day because I know it’s another championship that I should have won. It was neck and neck throughout the game.

“Darren Clarke came home from America and scored three or four points unanswered when he came on to put us into a four- or five-point lead coming close to the last quarter.

“We had the ball, but we didn’t kill it off. They got a point, then a goal - an absolute wonder goal (from Shane Hynes) - and the arse basically fell out of us. All of a sudden the game was over and we were never going to win the replay, in my opinion, because we had our chance.

“I remember an Ardee man saying afterwards that he was talking to Danny Culligan from the Gaels who had congratulated him when we were four points ahead. He said he was getting off early because he didn’t want to get caught in the traffic. Three or four minutes later the game was over and it was a draw. It was typical of Gaelic football in that it changed so quickly.

“Cooley in ’89, it was a horrible game with a really strong wind. They got a lead in the first half and we just couldn’t catch them. The Clans in ’93, Stefan (White) had a great game that day.

“Stabannon in 1997, was that one that got away? I would say we were playing catch-up and we did what the Pat’s did on us in 2003. I scored a penalty and we got a late free to draw the game before losing the replay. But the Pat’s was the one that really got away - they kicked on from there and won another six over the next 10 or 12 years.

“It still hurts.”

Democrat: “You could hardly have imagined Mary’s waiting 25 years for a championship title.”

Alan: “Being involved with Mary’s teams throughout my football career, I’d never have dreamt that it would be even longer than ’75 to ’95 before there’d be another championship victory.

“I played in five senior finals, seven if you include replays, but won only one and I went home in 2016 when they got to the final and it was another kick in the teeth.

“There was a young crop of players coming through after that and looking at it from a distance, 2016 was the end of an era for a lot of players and with the couple of minor championships that’ve been won since, it’s difficult to put your finger on why some players haven’t been able to take the jump from underage football to senior football.

“Please God it’ll kick on for them in the near future. It’s certainly not been for the want of trying on the club’s part.”

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Having played with Louth minors over two years under Damien Reid, impressing on the side which devoured Dublin before coming up short against Kildare in the 1991 provincial semi-final, Turlough O’Connor swooped to take promising ‘Dotsy’ into Dundalk’s first-team, along with the equally prodigious Paul Johnston.

Doherty would appear for the Oriel Park senior team over three seasons and while unable to fully cement his place, with competition in the form of Peter Hanahan and Terry Eviston, among others, he has nothing but fond memories of the stint working under O’Connor and Tommy Connolly, who he reserves particular time for.

The latter got Doherty and Thomas Staunton enrolled on an FAI course in Leixlip, which meant his training was done with the Dublin-based crew; the Hanrahans, Richie Purdy, Martin Lawlor, etc. Heroes from his days watching The Lilywhites from the Carrick Road terraces.

It ultimately cost him a place on the Mary’s starting XV for the 1993 senior final, but earlier that year he’d come in for Dundalk as a 79th minute substitute in the FAI Cup decider against Shelbourne. A feat which he feels he undervalues.

“It’s something that I should feel a lot more proud of. A lot of people around the area probably don’t even know that I played in a Cup final for Dundalk.

“The build-up to the day was great and I got a lot of tickets for people around Ardee; there was a busload from the town who used to travel down to the Dundalk games - and still do.

“The match itself was really tight. We’d beaten Shels in the league that year and it was one of those games that could have gone either way; Greg Costello got the winner and we had chances, but it’s an experience that I’ll never forget.”

It was a part of an enjoyable learning process, ultimately.

“Turlough was a players’ man and on a home matchday we used to meet at Oriel and have a wee bit of breakfast. We’d play pool in the Lilywhite Lounge before any meetings and it’d be great craic around the table.

“He used to hate losing at pool and we’d wind him up something terrible. But he was brilliant to be around and even better to listen to because he could get his message across fantastically.

“I remember the first game of one of the seasons, just before we went out, someone said: ‘C’mon boys, let’s go and win this league’. Turlough stopped us from walking out the door and said: ‘We’re not going out here to win the league today, we’re going out to win a football match and take it from there’. I took that attitude into my own game for the rest of my career and I feel it served me well.

“He was a special man to be around and to be fair, I think Tommy Connolly was absolutely fantastic as well for the club; a great man.”

Dermot Keely arrived in 1994 and transferred Doherty on to Finn Harps, a move which the Ardonian ranks as one of the best of his soccer career. A spell at Bangor followed before he joined Longford Town.

But, by 1998, he had enough and left the League of Ireland behind. Not even Stephen Kenny, recently appointed by the Midlanders, could persuade Doherty otherwise.

He returned to play for Dundalk’s reserves in 1999 and was even asked by Eviston, then first-team boss, to travel with the squad to Cobh for a First Division game on a Saturday night. However, with Mary’s playing Cooley in the semi-final of the Cardinal O’Donnell Cup less than 24 hours later, he declined.

“I think that tells its own story.”

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Democrat: “Were you a GAA man playing soccer, or a soccer man playing GAA?”

Alan: “In Ardee I would have been classed as a Gaelic man playing soccer. Would I have said that myself? Probably, for the simple fact that at the time there wouldn’t have been much soccer in Ardee. The local club was Square United, but Ardee would have been a GAA dominated area.”

Democrat: “Do you regret playing so much soccer? Would you have played more for Louth had you committed to it solely?”

Alan: “Ah, there’s not too many players who would have played at the highest level in both codes. Should I have done it? Looking back, would I have picked one or the other? I don’t think I would have.

“I’d 15 years of juggling everything and I feel I can be quite proud of what was achieved, be it with Dundalk, Harps, Louth, the Mary’s or whoever.”

Democrat: “One line answer, which were you better at: GAA or soccer?”

Alan: “GAA.”

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Louth had a top-class team, perhaps their best since the class of 1957, through the ’90s and when asked on to the senior side by Declan Smyth ahead of the ’94 championship opener in Westmeath, Doherty went along.

He came into the fray for Ollie McDonnell in Mullingar, scoring a point, as The Reds prevailed 0-13 to 1-9. His display was worthy of a starters’ berth in the comfortable triumph over Carlow and the semi-final defeat by Dublin, one of five Leinster last four reverses Louth suffered over an agonising series of seasons.

“I was coming on to a team of established players and it caught me aback a little, playing with the O’Hanlon brothers, Stefan White, Gerry Curran, Niall O’Donnell…,” Doherty adds. “It was a fantastic team. I believe that Louth were really unlucky not to win a Leinster Championship around the mid-’90s. Unfortunately, Meath and Dublin were around at that time too.

“I remember Offaly beating us in a Leinster semi-final over in Navan (1997) and you’re just left thinking that it could have been a really, really successful time for Louth. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be remembered as a successful time, but for the crop of players we had, it was a great time and a privilege to be involved.”

He doesn’t remember there being any difficulty with either Paul Kenny or Paddy Clarke in regard to his soccer involvement, with Kenny being especially accommodating. Between the team manager and County Board secretary Pat Toner, a taxi was ordered on one occasion to transport the Ardee man from a Saturday soccer game in the midlands to Castlebar, where Louth were playing Mayo the next day.

His tenures at Bangor and Longford were short-lived. Regrets, if Doherty is being honest. He ought to have put his lot in with Louth at that stage, around 1998.

“Looking back, it’s 100 percent what I should have done.”

Instead, moving into ’99, he took Clarke’s offer of a short break early in the year, but never fully reached his former levels upon returning. There was a further period with the Louth seniors after Paddy Carr’s appointment, which again failed to live up to the expectations ‘Dotsy’ had set.

Yet he is thankful for the involvement he had, his wealth of memories serving as a comfort to this day. They were an excellent football team, but also a band of characters who knew how to enjoy themselves.

There would be an annual trip away ahead of the championship each year and a few drinks would be on the menu, prior to a tough Sunday morning training session; ahead of which, one player, “who will remain nameless”, decided to take an out-door run in the nip.

“I suppose it was quite funny at the time, but he fell into a ditch. The following morning he arrived at training and you couldn’t see his legs or his face for cuts and bruises.”

We’ll have to publish a list of contenders!