James Doona: 'As soon as I chatted to Colin Healy, everything just clicked'

Fri, Jan 07 2022
James Doona (left) celebrating scoring for Athlone Town against Wexford in last April's 3-0 win

James Doona (left) celebrating scoring for Athlone Town against Wexford in last April's 3-0 win Credit: Gerry Shanahan (ETPhotos)

Born within a stone's throw of Richmond Park, James Doona hopes to return there on a regular basis with Cork City, who share his target of a swift return to Premier Division football.

As a youngster, the Inchicore native was part of St Patrick's Athletic's youth set-up, but then switched allegiances by signing for the Shamrock Rovers under-19s.

“I'd just come back from a good season with the Pat's underage side,” recalled Doona when speaking to extratime.com this week. “I met the first team manager at the time, Liam Buckley and also with Pat Fenlom, who was the Head Coach at Rovers. Something just told me to go and sign for Rovers and thankfully I did because of the way it worked out for me.”

While attempting to integrate into the Hoops' first team, the young winger was mentored by one of Ireland's greatest in his position, Damien Duff, who was winding down an illustrious playing career with a final stop at the Tallaght club.

“At first it was like: ‘Jesus, there's Damien Duff!’, but once you step on the pitch with him he's just a normal player. He was good to me because obviously he was a winger and so am I. He was always chatting to me, telling me little bits and adding to my game. He was a good role model to me and two or three young fellas breaking through.”

Upon completion of his third year with Shamrock Rovers and still only 19, James trained with Tranmere Rovers, but a deal never materialised.

“I went over to Tranmere the day the season finished. I was very close to signing for them. Initially, I was supposed to be over there for a week and then go to Wigan Athletic for a week. The Tranmere manager (Micky Mellon) rang me and asked if I wanted to stay for longer.

"They were playing Peterborough in the FA Cup and they wanted me to go up and see what life and everything would be like over there. I stayed for two and a half weeks. I was also supposed to go to Lincoln City and another few clubs on trial, but I came back and signed for Pat's, which I thought was a good move at the time.”

For someone literally born in the shadows of his hometown club's ground, it might appear inevitable that Doona would once again don the Saints' colours, but would the timing be right?

“I was at Rovers for three years, but I always think in the back of my head I'd play for Pat's, whether at a younger age or later on. That time at the club, I thought I was ready to play first-team football, but I wasn't. When the chance came up I took it, but it was probably at the wrong stage in my career.”

At the end of 2019, James played two matches for the PFAI's out of contract squad, but insists that re-signing for St Patrick's Athletic was only a formality in waiting.

“That season Harry Kenny was in charge. He lost his job and Stevie (Stephen O'Donnell) came in. I did well under Stevie, so I always knew I was going to go back to Pat's. I went training with the PFAI and played two games for them. It was a good experience, but different for me because I knew I had a club to go back to. For the other guys there is pressure because if you don't play well in those two games, your job is on the line and you probably won't get a club the next season.”

A solitary season in the First Division with Athlone Town has led to the Dubliner heading south and penning a deal with Cork City, in the expectation that both parties can resume participation in the top tier posthaste.

“In the middle of last season we had a break and there was a bit of contact form Cork. As soon as I chatted to Colin Healy, everything just clicked. Everything he said just matched where I was in my career. Athlone had a decent season and I played nearly every game, but I just felt it was the right move.

"It came down to full-time football, Cork being such a big club and their ambition to get back to the Premier Division, which is where I want to be.”

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