The Cult of… Kris Doolan

The Cult of… Kris Doolan

By James Cairney

When Kris Doolan was asked about the lowest point of his Partick Thistle career earlier this year, his answer was somewhat surprising. It came near the beginning of the 2013/14 season when the Jags hosted Hibs in a league encounter. After beating the offside trap, Doolan was sent scarpering through for a one-on-one with Owain Fon Williams. With all the time in the world, the Thistle striker tried to roll the ball past the onrushing keeper only to be denied. Hibs countered and scored the only goal of the game moments later, finishing the match as 1-0 victors.

 

The defeat stung Doolan. He felt personally responsible for the loss, with the miss coming at such a crucial point in the game. But he noticed something. Fon Williams, the Hibs goalie, came off his line early, leaving himself vulnerable to being chipped. Next time, Doolan promised, he wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

 

A couple of months later Thistle travelled to Easter Road for the return fixture in the league. Early in the second half, Doolan broke free of the Hibernian defence. He slalomed past the last defender and into the box, where Fon Williams duly came charging out. Without pausing to look up, Doolan struck the ball early and lifted it calmly over the Welshman, who watched helplessly as the ball trickled over the line.

 

Hibs eventually scored a last-gasp equaliser and the match finished 1-1. It wasn’t a particularly important game in the grand scheme of things but it neatly demonstrates the kind of player Doolan is. An intelligent striker capable of providing game-changing moments; always learning from his mistakes, always looking to lead from the front and seize the initiative during a match.

 

This January will mark Doolan’s ten-year anniversary at Firhill and during that time the Thistle fans have idolised him like no other player in recent memory. Doolan joined Thistle when the club were mired in mid-table of Scotland’s second tier, established himself as first-choice striker and went on to fire Thistle to promotion and even a top six finish in the 2016/17 season – the Glasgow side’s highest league finish in decades.

 

 

Doolan’s greatest attribute to Thistle is undoubtedly his remarkable consistency and loyalty to the club. The 31-year-old has proven to be an effective striker in the Premiership and undoubtedly could have moved on to a club with grander ambitions than Partick Thistle, yet has decided to spend his entire senior career with the club to date. Doolan is sixth in the list of all-time top scorers at Firhill with 115 goals in all competitions, which doesn’t hurt his relationship with the fans, but it’s the talisman’s longevity that separates him from other fan favourites.

 

In each of the last eight campaigns, Doolan has reached double figures in the scoring charts across all competitions. This might not sound terribly impressive for a striker, but you have to go back to the days of Ally McCoist and Rangers’ nine consecutive titles to find a player to equal this in Scotland’s top two divisions. Regardless of whatever league Thistle find themselves in, fans can rely on Doolan to chip in with 15-odd goals a season. Which, at a club like Thistle, is a priceless asset. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that without Doolan’s goals, Partick Thistle’s five-year stay in the Premiership would have been significantly shorter.

 

There are few players in Scotland that demonstrate Doolan’s level of reliability and the value of this to a club like Partick Thistle, where instability reigns supreme, cannot be underplayed. The Jags enjoyed a five-year stay in the Premiership before they were relegated in May but historically, Thistle are a topsy-turvy club. Between 2000 and 2007, for instance, Thistle were either promoted or relegated every season bar one. Prolonged stays in one division are rare and the playing squad usually changes dramatically for each campaign. But having a player like Doolan, who fans and coaching staff alike can rely on to provide a cutting edge in attack, gives a rare sense of stability to an otherwise inconsistent team.

 

It’s this consistency that has endeared Doolan to the Thistle faithful so much. He’s never been especially prolific – the 31-year-old hasn’t hit 20 goals in a single season, for instance – but has a good track record of scoring goals when it really matters. The last ten years or so has been one of the most successful periods in the club’s recent history and Doolan is an inextricable part of that story. When the occasion has called, the man from Ayrshire has consistently delivered time and time again.

 

 

When Thistle reached the Challenge Cup final in 2013, Doolan scored an equaliser in the last minute of stoppage time to take the game to penalties. The next year, he scored the winning goal on six occasions as Thistle won promotion to the top flight after a ten year hiatus. But Doolan’s finest appearance in a Thistle shirt was still to come.

 

When Partick Thistle hosted Hamilton Accies in January of 2015, Doolan had never scored a hat-trick for the club. There were plenty of doubles but try as he might, the ex-Auchinleck Talbot forward was never able to walk away with the match ball. Doolan went into the match having scored just once in his previous thirteen outings. But that night, everything fell into place for him. He got his first early on, poking into an empty net from close range. The next one was typical Doolan – he received the ball with his back to goal, turned his defender before rifling a low shot past the helpless goalkeeper.

 

If the second was typical, the third was anything but. Doolan latched onto a chip forward, once again with his back to goal. He instinctively back-heeled the ball before the defence could react and the ball rolled in to the bottom corner. He wasn’t done yet though – a few minutes later, he had the ball in the net once again after meeting Stephen O’Donnell’s cross and nodding it in towards the far post. After going six seasons without a hat-trick, he finished the match with four goals.

 

On April 1st 2017 – Or April Dools Day, as it will forever be known in Maryhill – Doolan became the first Partick Thistle player since Dougie Somner in the 1970s to hit a century of goals for the club in typically decisive fashion. Victory would all but secure a top-six finish for the Jags – Doolan opened the scoring with his 100th goal, then secured the win with his 101st. The match finished 2-1 and the Jags went on to secure a top half finish for the first time since the early 1980s.

 

 

Even last year, which ended with the heartbreak of relegation for Thistle, Doolan provided one of his most memorable moments in a Partick Thistle shirt. After the passing of club legend John Lambie, Thistle were rather aptly facing Hamilton Accies in the league. It was the first game of the split and the Jags desperately needed a win to avoid automatic relegation, after failing to pick up a win in their previous eleven outings. After falling behind to a David Templeton strike in the first half, Doolan grabbed the equaliser – his 100th league goal for the club – and Thistle went on to win 2-1 on what was an emotional day in Maryhill. It was a big occasion for the club and Doolan stepped up and gave Lambie an appropriate farewell.

 

Thistle have revamped their squad over the summer but Doolan remains, ready to lead the attack as the club look to bounce back from relegation. No player has contributed as much to Partick Thistle as Doolan in decades and for as long as he remains at the club, fans will be delighted. It’s not often as a supporter that you get to watch a genuine club legend strut his stuff week in, week out and although Doolan isn’t the sort of player to score 30 goals a season, his contribution over the coming seasons will no doubt define the club’s fortunes on the pitch.

 

At the age of 31 Doolan still has a few more seasons in him and with a testimonial to look forward to next year, the club will soon have an opportunity to thank him for his decade of service. For now, Thistle supporters should enjoy him for what he is – an instinctive penalty box striker, a talisman on the pitch and a leader off of it. Thistle fans had to wait over 30 years to see a player hit 100 goals again after Dougie Somner achieved the feat and it could be another 30 until it happens once more. Doolan will be talked about at Firhill for decades to come – for now, Jags fans should simply drink in every minute of it.

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