An emotional John Doolan explained how Hibs’ Scottish Cup triumph has given him a much-needed lift during a period of behind-the-scenes personal turmoil.
The Easter Road first-team coach had spent the past few weeks travelling to and from Liverpool to visit his gravely ill father John, who passed away a week past Thursday after a short battle with cancer. A shattered Doolan, whose brother’s wife is also fighting illness, headed south immediately after the play-off defeat by Falkirk and attended his dad’s funeral last Monday before returning north to help prepare his team for Saturday’s cup final. He admits the scenes of the past couple of days have offered him a welcome boost.
“My emotions are all over the place,” he told the Evening News. “I know my dad would be proud of me, proud of the team and proud of the club for winning this cup. It’s an amazing feeling but I just wish he’d have been here to actually see it. My family were here, my wife, my son Sam, my brother and his son, so to actually do it in front of them was great.
“This club always gives you a lift and these fans always give you a lift, and they’ve certainly given me that this weekend. Hibs are part of me forever after all of this. Once you understand this club, what’s it all about and what the fans are like, it touches you big time.
“Everybody’s rallied round me – the gaffer, Taff [Andy Holden], Alan Combe, the players, everyone has been brilliant. Every single one of them came up to me after the game, put their arm round me and said ‘that was for you and your dad’. I was made up with that. I raised a glass to my dad on Saturday night.”
Doolan has continued to show remarkable dedication to ensuring his team finished the season with a flourish, although he admits he has found it hard to focus on his job recently. “It’s not just been this week that’s been difficult – it’s been hard to focus on my work for a few weeks, if I’m honest,” he said. “It’s all happened so suddenly.
“Everybody has lost someone close to them so I’m sure everyone will understand how hard it’s been, but you just have to come in and get your game head and your professional head on. It’s been really tough, but I just had to come in last week and try and focus on winning this cup.”
Doolan took some solace from the fact his dad, a 79-year-old scaffolder who had continued to go to work until being diagnosed recently, had been able to make it to Edinburgh to watch Hibs. “He came up to a few games earlier this season so I was just glad he got a chance to come up and see where I worked, see what Easter Road was like and what the fans are like,” said Doolan. “He was made up that I’d got to such a good level in the game. He’d always tell his friends and relatives about how proud he was of me.”
Doolan, who bounds about the technical area relentlessly on a match day, admitted he was nagging the fourth official to signal the end of Saturday’s cup final as soon as David Gray had headed Hibs 3-2 in front in stoppage time. “I was on Bobby Madden’s case constantly,” he said. “Even though he said there was two minutes to go, I kept telling him ‘it’s over, it’s over’. He responded by saying ‘let me do my job’, so I did. When the whistle went, there were a few tears in my eyes.
“I think that silences all the talk about us being a club of bottlers. How many times has that kind of thing happened to us recently, losing late goals and stuff? To do it the way we did it against Rangers was absolutely brilliant. It hasn’t sunk in it yet. It doesn’t seem real – it’s just off the scale.”
Doolan, who praised two-goal hero Anthony Stokes for coming to the fore in the final, is now looking forward to making sure Hibs win promotion at the third attempt next season. “This has given us a platform to build for next season,” he said. “I’m looking forward to starting again next year and getting out of this league. Players will want to stay here after what they’ve done and seen this weekend and others will also want to come as a result. We’ve already shown that even in the Championship we can bring a player of Anthony Stokes’ calibre to the club. Me and Stokesy had a little thing going on where before every game I’d say ‘your season starts today’ and we’d have a chuckle. Before the final, I just said to him ‘your season has to start today, now finish it’. And he actually finished it outstandingly.”