THERE aren’t too many people who know that this season’s highest scorer in English football has moved clubs on a free transfer on four separate occasions in his career.
Then again, there are a lot of people who have only got to know Eoin Doyle for the first time in the last few weeks.
Until his £850,000 deadline-day move to Cardiff City, Doyle was a pub-quiz question. Which Irish player has scored the most goals in England’s professional leagues in 2014/15?
The same player who made his name in the League of Ireland as a mobile and technically-skilful striker at Shamrock Rovers and, particularly, at Sligo Rovers, where he appeared in three FAI Cup finals, two of which he won. A move to Hibernian, and two more Cup finals, followed. But when the Edinburgh club’s Irish manager, Pat Fenlon, moved on, so too did Doyle.
Free transfer number four — earlier he’d gone from Shelbourne to Rovers, from there to Sligo, from Sligo to Hibs — brought him to Chesterfield. Who?
The Derbyshire club tend to be overlooked which was why, as goal after goal went in this season, Doyle didn’t earn a promotion to Martin O’Neill’s international squad. “I’m not in a position to overlook anyone,” said O’Neill of Doyle.
But privately he was saying that Doyle needed to be doing it at a higher level. As of last week, he is.
“If I got to play for my country, it would be a dream come true,” said Doyle. “But that will only happen if I do it for Cardiff. I’ve a job to do here. I have to repay them for the faith they have shown in me.”
Investing nearly £1million as well as all their hopes was Cardiff’s biggest piece of business in January. Relegated from the Premier League last year, they have struggled to get to grips with life in the Championship, which isn’t uncommon for clubs whose players have lost confidence and hunger following a demotion.
Having an appetite for improvement, though, is one of Doyle’s chief assets. At 26, he is something of a late bloomer, and his return of 25 goals this season is just two fewer than the number he posted in his previous three seasons with Hibs and Chesterfield.
“Confidence is a key reason,” he says of the turnaround. “When I moved to Chesterfield from Scotland, I always had the aim of getting to the Championship and seeing how far I could go on from there.
“There will be expectations on me now but I need to play with a clear mind and without that feeling of the weight of the world on your shoulders. This is a new challenge. I can’t wait for it.”
His impatience to get going in the Welsh capital is understandable. After all, he is finally earning a decent wedge after spending eight years as a professional on fairly modest money.
Life as a pro often consisted of sharing digs with other players, of scrimping and saving and finding odd jobs here and there in the League of Ireland’s off-season. In between clubs, there were a few gap weeks when he wondered where he’d go next. Yet rather than disappear off the radar, he had the humility to go back to his roots and hook up with his friends at a Dublin junior club, Firhouse Clover, for training.
“Any chance of signing for us?” they asked. Instead, he was reunited with his former Sligo manager, Paul Cook, in Chesterfield. Promotion there preceded his remarkable run of form this season.
“It would mean an awful lot to me if I ended up as English football’s highest scorer this year,” said Doyle. “I’ve waited a long time for a year like this.”
Yet it has been worth the wait, worth the teething troubles at Hibs and Chesterfield. “I think the biggest difference between the League of Ireland is physical more than anything. The demands over here are harder on you.
“I think I’m still the same player as I was at Sligo, although the gaffer would probably be the best person to say that because he’s seen me here as well as there. But the physical adjustment is big, even going from Scotland to England because you’re playing an extra 10 league games a season.
“That’s something you have to get used to. You have to look after yourself a bit better but we get well looked after by the medical team. I like it this way. There’s nothing better than playing games.”
One game he wants more than any other is for Ireland. “I’m a Dublin lad, a proud Irishman. It’s my main goal.”