Belfast Telegraph

Elder statesman Steven Douglas ready for final season at Coleraine

Family celebration: Steven Douglas with wife Paula and baby Charlie who was born the day before the 2018 Irish Cup Final
Family celebration: Steven Douglas with wife Paula and baby Charlie who was born the day before the 2018 Irish Cup Final

By Graham Luney

When the curtain lifts on the Danske Bank Premiership season tomorrow, fans will be hoping to catch a glimpse of the next Gavin Whyte, Paul Smyth, Bobby Burns or Mark Sykes.

Whyte's sensational rise through the ranks of Crusaders and Oxford United to Championship side Cardiff City highlights the Irish League's power to catapult players to a bigger stage.

But young players need guidance, encouragement and advice. Seasoned campaigners have a vital role to play at clubs and there is no player in the Irish League more experienced than Coleraine defender Steven Douglas.

'Dougie', one of the most popular and respected competitors in the domestic game, is the oldest player in the Premiership and, as he looks forward to his 42nd birthday on September 27, he's ready to give it one last rattle in the top flight.

This will be his final season before devoting his time to coaching and spending precious moments with his wife Paula and his family, including his children Chandler, Calum and Charlie.

Douglas, who is a month older than former Linfield keeper Roy Carroll, has been dubbed the 'Irish League's Peter Pan' by his boss Oran Kearney, who added: "His experience is worth its weight in gold and Steven is like another coach."

The Ballymena man, whose magnificent career included spells at Portadown and Linfield, has passed the 150 appearance mark for the Bannsiders since making his debut in 2013.

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Every dressing room needs leaders, and Douglas, while keeping the boots within reach, is determined to keep younger players on the right path.

"There's another season left in me," says the defender, who made his Coleraine debut against Glentoran in August 2013.

"I'll be 42 next month and feel younger because the manager looks after me! Big Roy Carroll was challenging me for the oldest player in the league but I'm still going strong. 100 per cent, I feel like I can play on. I've spoken to Oran and towards the end of last season I got more game time than I expected.

"I spoke with Paula about it and my recovery went fine. I felt good and thought to myself if another year was offered I'd take it.

"When you're young you have an incentive to prove yourself, that's not me anymore. I just want to enjoy my last few months as a player. Now it's about helping and guiding the youngsters for me. They can listen to what I'm saying and improve. If I arrive down and am on the bench that doesn't bother me. I won't play on at a different level. I have kids and I sacrificed too much for my career.

"I have hardly ever seen the boys kick a ball. Chandler is at Portstewart and Calum is at Ballymena United. Charlie, who was born the day before the Irish Cup Final last year, is only one.

"I sacrificed time around Chandler growing up, and once I finish with Coleraine that's me, I'll be there to see the boys' careers develop."

Coleraine, who this week announced the signing of Emmett McGuckin from Dergview, are looking to get the blue and white bandwagon moving again after a frustrating time following Kearney's exit to St Mirren.

"Oran left, Rodney (McAree) came in and a new man was always going to put their mark on things," said Douglas.

"We had a good squad but we lost Darren McCauley, Brad Lyons and Ciaron Harkin, three of the best players in the league."

He added: "My hopes are to better last season, that's it summed up."

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