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First team

'Even when he was seriously ill, he would text me'


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Had it not been for the untimely passing of his mentor Eamonn Dolan, it could have been a very different story for Jack Stacey at his boyhood club Reading.

Since the fixtures were released, Stacey has been eagerly awaiting the visit of the Royals, having spent 13 years at the club he joined when he was just eight.

When he first signed, former West Ham, Birmingham and Exeter striker Dolan was academy manager at the Madejski, his own playing career cut short after he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1993.

Stacey flourished under the tutelage of Dolan and his team of coaches, going on to win a two-year scholarship, a first professional contract and playing in the Championship when he was 18.

Dolan was assisting Steve Clarke when Stacey made his full debut in a 4-1 defeat at Watford in March 2015, having previously held the reins on a caretaker basis following Brian McDermott’s departure in 2013.

In June 2016, Dolan (pictured below) passed away, aged 48, following a second battle with cancer, having had surgery the previous year to remove a tumour from his bladder.

The Irishman brought hundreds of players through the Reading academy, including Stacey, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Steve Sidwell, Shane Long and former Cherries loan man Jem Karacan.

Stacey, speaking to afcb.co.uk ahead of what he said would be a poignant game for him, felt his career at Reading stalled after Dolan had died.

The 24-year-old defender made six appearances for the Royals in 2014/15, his first as a substitute under Nigel Adkins in August 2014, his second under Clarke some seven months later.

“There were a number of factors why I didn’t play more games for Reading,” said Stacey.

“I impressed Nigel Adkins enough to get my debut but, when Steve Clarke came in, I was almost starting again because I didn’t have that CV of games under my belt.

“It took me a good few months in training and in under-21 games to build up my reputation with the new manager until he trusted me enough to play me in the first team.

“I started the last game of the season and broke my ankle at Derby. I ended up missing the next pre-season and then never really broke in again after that. I had to go on loan and then move to Luton to develop my career.

“Another part of it was the loss of Eamonn. He was always the communication between the academy and the first-team manager.

“Once he passed away, it felt like there was a bigger gap to make the first team and managers could only judge on what they saw at face value, rather than knowing too much about what you had done in the past.

“Eamonn was there when I first signed and had such a huge impact on so many players’ careers, including mine.

“When I made my first start under Steve Clarke, Eamonn was the assistant and that was massively helpful for me. I also I think it was a part of why I played because he was telling Steve what I could do and he believed in me so much.

“He passed away in the summer before I joined Exeter on loan. But even when he was seriously ill, he would text me.

“I was in League Two and wasn’t playing regularly but he kept telling me I was going to play in the Premier League one day.

"He always had that belief in me and he was a great loss to Reading, to football, to everything.”

Stacey added: “There’s a picture from my Premier League debut against Everton last season. It’s a picture of me and Gylfi Sigurdsson (pictured below) in the tunnel.

“Gylfi started at Reading and Eamonn always used to tell me stories about him and his professionalism.

"He would love to have seen me making my Premier League debut and playing on the same pitch as Gylfi.

“There are a few of us having good careers in the Championship after leaving Reading so I think Eamonn would have been proud of all of us.”

Stacey, who netted the first of the Cherries’ 15 league goals this season in the 3-2 win against Blackburn, has made ten starts and one substitute appearance in the Championship.

Asked whether he might have a point to prove against the Royals, he replied: “The club has changed massively since I left.

“When I left, they were in the Championship and I dropped down to League Two. I didn’t specifically want to prove a point to Reading but wanted to prove to myself that I could at least play to Championship level and, hopefully, in the Premier League.

“I went to Barnet when they were struggling under Martin Allen and only played two games before they sent me back.

“It was a huge disappointment in my career but, looking back now, it was probably the best thing that happened to me.

“I had a great time on loan at Exeter when we reached the League Two play-off final and then won back-to-back promotions with Luton.

“My dream was to play in the Premier League and I did that last season. I want to go back there and have always felt like I’m trying to prove myself and prove my qualities.

"I have never thought about trying to prove a point to anybody but myself. It’s something I have inside me.”

The visit of Veljko Paunovic’s team is the first of nine games in 29 days for the Cherries with midweek fixtures in the Championship for the next four weeks.

Serbian Paunovic has guided the Royals to the top of the table after they won seven and drew one of their first eight games. And despite losing their past three, they are still at the summit.

Stacey said: “They’ve had an unbelievable start. It has been a fantastic achievement for the new manager to come in and hit the ground running.

“It’s great for them to be up there. Ideally for me, I’d love for both of us to be up there at the end of the season but, if I had to choose, obviously, I’m a Bournemouth player so that’s all I’ll be thinking about on Saturday.”

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