ON THE BALL Islandeady native Paul Doyle is pictured in action for UCD. Pic: Sportsfile
THERE aren’t too many Mayo men who can say they were voted UCD’s ‘Player of the Year’ by their team-mates during their careers.
But that’s a claim to fame that Paul Doyle from Islandeady can now make after receiving ‘the nice little surprise’ when he turned up to pre-season training recently.
“It was a nice award to pick up. It was a bit unexpected because we’d usually have an end-of-year get-together and that was put off because of Covid, then I arrived back on the first day of training last week I was given the award,” the former Fahy Rovers and Westport Utd midfielder told The Mayo News.
A former underage player with Sligo Rovers, Doyle was part of a UCD team that finished third in the League of Ireland First Division last season, ultimately losing to Longford Town in the play-offs.
The final-year physiotherapy student describes that defeat as ‘a hard one to take’.
“It ended up by being a bit of a disappointing season that we didn’t get promotion,” explained the 22 year-old.
“We were looking to go up last year, there’s no doubt about it. Longford went on through the play-offs and got promotion and were successful so that gives you a bit of extra drive to get back and push it on one step further if we can.”
Like almost every other sporting competition in the world, there was nothing normal about last season’s League of Ireland campaign following the arrival of the pandemic in March.
“It was strange enough alright,” is Paul Doyle’s summary of a bizarre season.
“We had three games played before the lockdown came in March and we were a mixed bag. We didn’t hit the ground running the way we wanted to.
“When we came back in July we were in a lot better shape. Lads put in a lot of training over the break by themselves and we really hit the ground running when we came back, we were in a different place.”
Speaking of different, the south Dublin outfit have yet to play a game in front of spectators.
“There’s a lot to be said for going to places and having packed crowds, whether they’re screaming down their throat abusing you or at the opposite end,” admitted Doyle.
“It’s a big part and parcel of every sport, it’s definitely not the same. Even just for family to be able to go to games it’d be a big thing if they were able to go back into grounds.
“But even though there isn’t that crowd in the background, once you cross over the white line you do forget about that side of things and it’s only an add-on.
“We’d usually get poor enough crowds. We don’t have a big following,” he continued.
“In terms of home games it wasn’t too much different than what it would be normally. [It makes a difference] when you go to away grounds in Galway or Tolka Park, there could be upwards of a thousand people there.”
Having received the Covid-19 vaccine as part of his hospital work placement, Paul Doyle hopes his side will be playing in front of crowds at some stage for his final season in Belfield.
“You’d like to hope that that might be a possibility towards the end of the year,” he said.
“If [vaccines] start reaching far and wide it will allow people to get back in the gates. Nothing is guaranteed at the minute.”
As for UCD’s prospects of winning promotion this season, their Mayo-born midfielder is equally unsure. But he is hoping for the best.
“If we perform every week, we’ll be a match for anybody and we’ll be able to beat anybody. “But for for a young team it’s about getting consistency and that’s probably the main thing we lacked last season. That comes with games, so hopefully this season we’ll be able to add a bit more consistency to our game.”