The Curious Case of Conor Doyle
I won’t say I was surprised to see that Conor Doyle had been given a contract extension with The Rams – as I’d heard a hint he would – but I did wonder why. However, I’m not about to put the boot into Doyle but wonder what Clough has in mind for the young-ish American.
I say young-ish as Doyle was just 18 when he first joined the Rams but the forthcoming season will be his fourth at the club. Doyle arrived on trial in summer 2010 and after an impressive pre-season and a few injuries to the squad, he was signed and immediately joined the first team squad, featuring in several early season fixtures. He then returned to the team around Christmas for a crucial win at Preston (with at least one assist for Porter) and again at ‘Boro away (he was subbed for Ben Davies who was subsequently at fault for the winning goal!) before a telling contribution in a crucial win against Swansea (assist on Steve Davies’ goal). In total he featured 14 times including 5 starts.
He featured in many of the ‘first team’ line-ups in the pre-season of 2011 but was unfortunately injured against Aston Villa and out the first team picture for a few months. His only start came at Peterborough away, playing wide-right in a 3-2 defeat. Doyle managed 5 more substitute appearances although some were late on in lost games. Clough intended to give Doyle a run at the end of the season but sadly for Conor, injury struck again and his chance was gone.
Doyle’s problem was becoming apparent. Clough obviously rated him as a player and often put him on the bench instead of the likes of Croft and Maguire. However, The Rams had moved to a more rigid 4-4-2 since Doyle’s early appearances and he was neither a right-winger, central midfielder or out-and-out striker.
Last season was almost an exact repeat for Conor but with less game time. He was again restricted to just one start (again on the right-wing and again subbed early by Clough standards) and despite being named on the bench an awful lot, Doyle only joined the fray against Watford and Tranmere when the Rams were coasting to comfortable victories. In another repeat of last season, Doyle was denied his chance through injury – this time suffering appendicitis on a mid-season break to Miami. Clough had included Doyle in his tight-knit squad ahead of Ben Davies but with the squad being depleted, Davies stepped back in and took his chance. Doyle continued to feature on the bench but I could never envisage a scenario where Clough would bring him on to change the game – Jacobs, Robinson, Davies, Bennett, Freeman and whoever else would always be first, second and third pick.
The curious point is – why does Clough dangle him so close to the first team but is so reluctant to get him involved?
Most fans will scoff if you suggest playing Doyle but the truth is, not many have seen much of him. A few glimpses of him when he was a teenager is most peoples limit. I’ve seen him for the reserves and in friendlies a few times and he definitely has strengths – an eye for a pass, good shot and decent touch. He also scored a few for the U21s early in the season.
Looking at the number of players Derby have loaned out recently, I’m amazed that Doyle isn’t one of them. He’s a player who obviously needs to be playing regular league football to progress – or at least to be properly evaluated. So I was pleased to see the plan was to loan him out next season. Where to and in what position will be interesting. I wish him the best of luck though and in light of our recent loan-outs (see Only the Loan-ees) article, I would like nothing more than Doyle to play a stormer somewhere and return a genuine first team contender.