Earlier this season, in the 31st minute of Reading’s Premier League encounter with Tottenham at Madejski Stadium, one of his Academy graduates (Sigurdsson) struck a right-footed shot that beat one of his Academy graduate goalkeepers (McCarthy) but was cleared off the line by one of his Academy graduate defenders (Pearce). It was a moment that represented how big an impact our thriving youth system has had on first team affairs since Dolan took over – in fact, that weekend, only Manchester United were better represented by their home-grown Academy graduates in the top flight fixtures that played out.
During Eamonn's reign as Academy boss, 18 graduates in total have gone on to make appearances for Reading’s first team. Stars such as Alex McCarthy, Alex Pearce, Jem Karacan, Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu have gone on to make numerous appearances for the club in the Barclays Premier League – whilst even those who have flown the nest continue to make waves on the biggest stage, with the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson making a big impact both in the Bundesliga at Hoffenheim and with Champions League-chasing Tottenham Hotspur, and Shane Long and Simon Cox impressing for Dolan’s native Republic of Ireland as well as in the Premier League for West Bromwich Albion.
Playing alongside his twin brother Pat he represented the Irish in the 1985 FIFA World Youth Championship – taking on the likes of runners-up Spain and eventual winners Brazil in a group of death, coming up against legendary South American goalkeeper Taffarel in the process!
On the domestic scene, the Galway-born frontman’s professional debut came on the last day of the 1986-87 campaign, coming off the bench to play a part in West Ham’s 2-0 home win over relegated Manchester City – playing alongside goalscorers Liam Brady and Tony Cottee as well as Paul Ince and Frank McAvennie in John Lyall’s side.
A series of injuries meant first team chances remained few and far between but his first goal came in a 3-2 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion on 30th September 1989 – and, now under the management of Lou Macari, he scored three more that season, including a brace in a 5-0 thrashing of Sunderland.
After a brief loan spell at Bristol City, Dolan moved to Birmingham City in 1990 where he would made 16 appearances in total, scoring once. Then a move to Exeter City began a 13-year stay with the Grecians for Dolan.
He played in a 3-2 win for Exeter City at Elm Park – Alan Ball’s side earning victory thanks to a hat-trick from Scott Hiley, cancelling out Royals efforts from Jimmy Quinn and Phil Parkinson back in November 1992.
But it was whilst with Exeter that he would also survive a cancer scare and after 26 appearances as a Grecian, Dolan was forced to call time early on his playing career – moving onto the coaching scene at St James Park, initially working within the club’s youth set up before taking the post as full time manager in 2003.
In his first season in charge of the Conference outfit, he led Exeter to a sixth-placed finish, just one point behind Aldershot in the last play-off place, and the following October he was headhunted by Nick Hammond to replace Brendan Rodgers as the Royals’ Academy Manager.
In his eight-and-a-half years at Madejski Stadium, Dolan has overseen a glittering period of youth development at Reading, with year upon year of youth graduates making an imprint on our first team squad, the Premier League and the international scene.