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Messages, miles and memories: Paul Doolin on his first week as Portadown boss

Paul Doolin’s Dublin accent cut through the Shamrock Park noise on Tuesday night for the first time in over 25 years as he offered advice and encouragement to the Portadown players.

Just hours into life as Portadown boss following a quickfire appointment, Doolin was not part of the official management panel for the Premiership clash with Crusaders - but a seat in the stands rather than spot on the sidelines could not prevent his coaching instincts from kicking in.

Ultimately, a fresh face failed to stop the Ports from suffering off old problems as Crusaders scored the game’s only goal on 90 minutes.

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It was another tale of effort eventually giving way in the face of opposition pressure - a 15th defeat of 24 Premiership fixtures across a campaign defined by examples of so-close-but-so-far moments.

Paul Doolin at Shamrock Park this week following his confirmation as Portadown manager. Pic by Pacemaker.

Portadown’s inability to bridge the gap between sympathetic plaudits and cold, hard points led to the departure of Matthew Tipton as manager following a Sunday meeting with the Board of Directors.

Doolin, who had previously been interviewed at the time of Niall Currie’s 2016 appointment, talked to club officials on Monday and made a welcome return to Shamrock Park the following night.

There is a nice symmetry with the fact that Doolin’s Ports debut in 1991 as a player was against Larne - the same side he will face this evening for a first official match as manager.

Contrasting fortunes across the past three decades, however, mean the similarities begin and end with the names of the same two clubs on the Irish League fixture list.

Doolin arrived as a midfield addition in 1990 to a Portadown squad celebrating title glory and he capped his first season by making history as the first to win a league-and-cup trophy double both sides of the border.

Protecting the club’s proud top-flight legacy is Doolin’s drive over the next few months and he ranks a successful relegation rescue mission this season as up alongside any previous achievement in club colours on the pitch.

“I loved my time at Portadown as a player and always kept an eye on the club after I left,” said Doolin this week. “The fans were great, with fantastic people around the place...it’s great to see Portadown back in the top division.

“The main thing is to get this group going and have a go between now and the end of the season to see if we can get ourselves out of trouble.

“No player wants to have a relegation on his CV and we need to build from solid foundations.

“The fundamentals have to be right, those things don’t change no matter the level.

“We’ve young players here but even experienced players can be coached.

“There could also be a gem already at the club that maybe a different way of doing things might trigger something.

“I’ve 20-plus years as a player and 15 years or more in coaching, so you are drawing on experience.

“It’s about behaving like professionals...I’m not a bawler but don’t suffer fools.

“I’ve dealt with all types of players - under 23 and under 19 internationals, senior internationals, Premier League names and I lead by example.

“On Tuesday against Crusaders, I felt we did well enough to get a point.

“Our attacking play improved over the second half and, despite conceding so late, I could see positives to build on.

“But we cannot continue to give away goals and our first priority must be to stop losing games.

“You look at a league table and it reflects how teams handle both sides of the game, attack and defence.

“Thursday’s first training session with the players was an opportunity to get to know everyone better.

“The aim is to get ideas across that can help us now...we need points.”

Within the whirlwind of the past week, Doolin has embraced the normality of life inside a changing room and outside on the training pitch.

It is an insight into his methods that Doolin’s reference point remains internal advancement over external answers.

“I’ve always used analysis - it’s a bit easier now with the WyScout system compared to the old days of constantly rewinding and fast-forwarding tape,” said Doolin, who stayed in a Portadown hotel last night and arranged a final team meeting with his backroom staff to maximise the face-to-face time for pre-match preparations. “We had a clips package to show the players in training on Thursday that helped to highlight some of the defensive issues.

“We have to prove hard to beat as a starting point then aim to pick up as many points as possible to be in the right position over the split.

“It’s been a crazy few days, with long hours juggling my job in the civil service on top of the WhatsApp and text messages and phone calls around football...but it’s been great.

“I won’t be bringing in an outside backroom team...we’ve a short space of time to work between now and the end of the season and it would be foolish not to draw on the inside knowledge of those already at the club.

“People like Neil McCullough and Trevor Williamson are synonymous with Portadown Football Club - both were here when I was a player in the 1990s and it’s important to use the information of those at the club.

“Trevor has been here for so long as first-team coach and Neil has a good knowledge of the game and good eye for players.

“The club has made some signings already in the January market and Neil has discussed some other names with me, so we might be able to do some business before the close of transfer window.

“But at this stage it would be more a case of taking a punt on someone and we cannot be reckless either.

“My focus has always been as a coach and with time so tight it’s going to be important to focus on those players here and trying to get improvements.”

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