Ex-skipper vindicated over heartaching Pompey departure

It is said everyone is an expert with the virtue of hindsight.

Saturday, 26th May 2018, 10:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:51 am
Michael Doyle celebrates Pompey's League Two title success Picture: Joe Pepler

For Michael Doyle, the instinctive decision was correct in the first instance, no soothing justification subsequently required.

A little under 48 hours after skippering Pompey to the League Two title, the midfielder fulfilled a pre-arranged meeting in Paul Cook’s training ground office.

As with all members of that triumphant squad on that Monday, the future was under discussion, focusing on performance targets, fitness programmes or contract renewals.

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Michael Doyle, left, with former Pompey striker Marc McNulty, will lead Coventry out at Wembley on Monday

Doyle departed such talks clutching a flimsy pledge for a new deal – that afternoon he left Pompey for good.

Coventry City had come calling. A destination close to home and pleading for dressing room leadership to galvanize a club wallowing at its lowest ebb.

Cook had tantalisingly tossed around the possibility of a fresh contract, yet the words were peppered with uncertainty and ambiguity.

The Blues’ captain was in no mood for participating in a plunge of faith.

Roll on 12 months and, on Monday afternoon, the 36-year-old will lead out the Sky Blues for Wembley’s League Two play-off final.

Exeter City obstruct Doyle’s progress towards claiming successive promotions from the bottom division of the Football League.

Certainly, he can reflect upon that Pompey exit driven by the head rather than heart in May 2017.

And after 51 Coventry appearances, three goals and that forthcoming Wembley appearance, there can be no regret.

Doyle told The News: ‘Portsmouth is an unbelievable football club and I would have been happy to stay down there. I loved it, I loved the people, loved the football club, loved the stadium, everything about it.

‘It’s a proper football club and has an aura about it, I loved those two years.

‘I went in to see the gaffer at the end of the season to see if there was a contract there and kind of thought: “Where is it?”

‘I’m not disrespecting anybody here, but it just wasn’t there so I got straight into the car and that was it – I went to Coventry who had made contact with me.

‘Sometimes things are meant to be and I did the right thing.

‘Obviously, Kenny (Jackett) then came in and wanted to build with youth, which was fair enough.

‘I just think things happen for a reason. I had an unbelievable two years down there and wouldn’t change it for the world.

‘In football nobody waits around for you, you have to move on quickly and I’m back at Coventry now, where my family have lived throughout my career.

‘I’m home all the time and am feeling the benefits of it on the pitch. I’ll probably be able to play a couple of years longer if that’s what I want to do. I’m not travelling in the car to the south coast at 5.30am on Mondays, these are the little things in football that you do.

‘I was aware of the rumours over the manager’s future at the time, but he had the right to do what he wanted – and it has worked out for him. Maybe the club lost some players over it, I don’t know.

‘If that contract was put in front of me when I went in to see him, would I have signed it? Possibly, yes.

‘I loved the place, it would have been hard as captain of a winning team with a great bunch of lads to walk away.

‘But I’m not really looking back anymore. At Portsmouth I achieved what I wanted to achieve – to get the club promoted.

‘I wanted promotion at a massive club and was fortunate to get it.’

It was not without irony that Coventry’s play-off final presence was clinched at Meadow Lane.

In April 2017, Doyle was a member of the Pompey side which claimed promotion against Notts County with a 3-1 triumph amid memorable scenes.

He returned to the setting eight days ago to lead Mark Robins’ side to a 4-1 victory, sealing an aggregate 5-2 scoreline.

Of course, the former Sheffield United player had previously endured play-off heartbreak with Pompey at Home Park in May 2016.

Now he stands on the brink of consecutive promotions from League Two.

And should he succeed, there is one particular fixture he craves next season.

Doyle added: ‘I would love to get back to Fratton Park and play against Pompey as a former player.

‘I never played at previous clubs Sheffield United or Leeds, but I’d love to face Portsmouth next season and see those fantastic fans again.

‘It is one of the best grounds in the country to play in, I would love to go back. Just for a day.’

–NEIL ALLEN

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