Six weeks out of the game have been difficult for “football mad” John Doolan to contend with.
The popular former Hibs first-team coach thrives on being on a training ground every weekday and then cajoling them from the technical area on a Saturday afternoon.
Since he, Alan Stubbs and Andy Holden were sacked as Rotherham United’s managerial triumvirate in mid-October, however, the 48-year-old Liverpudlian has been missing the day-to-day intensity of his profession.
“I’m a football man – I’m football daft,” Doolan told the Evening News. “I don’t care what people say – it’s hard being out of it because it’s in your blood. I keep myself busy walking the dog but even when I’m out with him, I’m thinking about the game I’ve just watched on telly or been out watching the previous night.
“I’ve been going on continued professional development courses, which you’ve got to do to keep your badges, and getting to as many games as possible in the Liverpool area. I was at Everton Under-23s against Portsmouth on Monday.
“People in the game generally know what you’ve done and where you are at the moment but you can’t just hide away and wait for the phone to ring. You’ve got to get out and about and do a bit of networking. There are jobs available all the time in academies and things like that but once you’ve had a taste of first-team management, you want more of it. I just can’t wait to get back into it.”
Doolan left Hibs in the aftermath of the historic Scottish Cup triumph in May to become Stubbs’ assistant at Rotherham. He had the chance to remain at Easter Road and was a genuine contender to replace Stubbs before current incumbent Neil Lennon signalled his interest, but Doolan was in a bad place off the pitch, with his father having just succumbed to cancer and his sister-in-law battling the same disease. The chance to return to his family home in Liverpool, allied with a sense of loyalty to boyhood friend Stubbs, meant the move to Rotherham made sense. “Hindsight’s a great thing,” he said ruefully. “If you’re asking if I’d go back to Hibs, I’d probably go back in a heartbeat, but I don’t regret anything because at the time I think it was the right thing to do.
“I was gutted about [Rotherham] because we only got 13 games of a three-year deal but, at the same time, it’s a results-driven business. You’ve just got to get on with it. There’s worse things that can happen in life – as I found out when I lost my dad. That puts a different perspective on what happens in football.”
Ideally, Doolan would like to continue working with Stubbs and Holden, although he recognises that he may have to return to youth coaching to keep himself ticking over if nothing materialises early in the new year. “At the minute I just want to enjoy Christmas with my family,” he said. “If the phone rings tomorrow and something happens, and it suits, then you go with it. In terms of continuing to work with Alan, we’ve spoken about it and I think we’d definitely go together if Alan got something. We’ve done well together in a short space of time, so I’d look forward to the next challenge with him. If the phone rings and somebody wants to speak to me, we’d cross that bridge when we come to it. I’m ready to go again though.”
Having had his fingers burnt by leaving a stable Edinburgh club for a notoriously volatile environment in England this year, what does Doolan make of Robbie Neilson’s decision to leave Hearts for MK Dons last week? “I think Milton Keynes is a good club for someone like Robbie,” he said. “The chairman backed his last manager in Karl Robinson, who I know well from working with him in Liverpool’s academy. Robbie will want to challenge himself down south and with the backing of the chairman, I think he’ll do well. I can see why he’s gone. If he didn’t take it, he’d end up asking himself ‘what if?’ and questions like that. He’s been at Hearts a long time, so this is a good new challenge for him.”
Doolan made his first visit to Easter Road since leaving the club in June when he and his wife returned to Edinburgh last month and watched Lennon’s side cruise to a 4-0 win over Queen of the South before attending a Supporters Club Scottish Cup victory commemoration gathering that night.
“It was tough being up in the stand instead of the dugout but it was great to see the lads win so comfortably,” he said. “I really enjoyed being back to see everyone. I wasn’t just back at Hibs when I was up, I went back to the Kings Manor and the Ormelie in Joppa because I made friends when I lived there. I’ve spoken about it so many times before but once you and your family have been touched by Hibs, it never leaves you. Hibs are my club now, the same as Everton are my club.”