Few Partick Thistle fans will forget the day that Kris Doolan departed the club, and few will forget the day he became interim manager either. Back in May 2019, those of a red-and-yellow persuasion were breathing a sigh of relief after Gary Caldwell’s side staved off the threat of relegation on the final day of the Championship season. The positivity wouldn’t last long, though.

Doolan went into the stadium a few days later, expecting to re-sign for Thistle for another year, as had become the norm during his decade-long stay at the club. Instead, he was informed that no extension would be forthcoming. The man who sits fourth in the Maryhill club’s all-time top scorer list with 121 goals, idolised by supporters and a matter of weeks away from playing in his testimonial, had played his last game without even knowing it.

It served as a painful reminder of the ruthless nature of professional sport – not that Thistle fans will need much reminding. Earlier this month, Ian McCall and his coaching staff were relieved of their duties in the aftermath of an encouraging 3-2 defeat at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup, and it is Doolan that has been asked to step into the breach while the club board consider their options in their search for a new permanent manager.

It is a remarkable turn of events for Doolan, who only returned to Thistle last month to join the club’s youth coaching set-up but now finds himself taking the reins of a team challenging for promotion to the Premiership. It is something that the Firhill fans’ favourite certainly didn’t envisage happening so early in his coaching career – and it certainly felt very distant that day he was told his services were no longer required in Maryhill. Somehow, he would have to adapt to life after Thistle.

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“It was tough and that’s how I know just how brutal football can be,” Doolan said. “I think you have to have a time of reflection but then you have to pick yourself up as quickly as you can because football moves on so quickly. When I left the club it hurt a lot, there isn’t any way of getting around that or dressing it up in any other way. But then you have to work out what comes next and what is best for you.

“It’s bizarre. I was here for 10 and a half years, every day giving my all and doing everything that was asked of me – and then you don’t have Thistle in your life after that. It’s a really abrupt end and it’s a hard one to take. But once the dust settles you work out what’s best for you and for me, that was to go and enjoy playing football for however long I had left. I wanted to enjoy what I was doing. It’s a short career.

“You’re so used to how everything operates, how the club works, the people that are here. It is a bit of a shock to the system but you do have to try and find a way of adapting. I went to Ayr, Morton and Arbroath and it was all about enjoyment. At that point I was in the latter stages of my career and you just don’t have the time to hang around. Thankfully I enjoyed my time at the other clubs as well but when you try and compare it to what you are used to…

“Partick Thistle is my club and my heart has always been here. Everybody knows that and that’s why I gave so much for so long as a player. And I loved every minute of it.”

Doolan’s last match as a footballer came for Arbroath a little over two years ago but you could be forgiven for not realising, given the striker didn’t exactly make a big song and dance about it all. Displaying a typical sense of modesty, he says he didn’t announce his retirement because he didn’t think he didn’t think anyone would be all that fussed. And besides, he had another line of work that he had wholeheartedly embraced.

“I’m not a big social media guy,” he explained. “I don’t need the spotlight on me and saying ‘that’s me, I’ve officially retired’. I genuinely just thought ‘I don’t really have a big foothold on social media, nobody will really bother if I’m retired or not’. I just got on with what came next and threw myself into that because I think it’s really important that footballers look ahead.

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“It comes around really fast and it can hit you like a tonne of bricks if you’re not prepared for it. I threw myself into the coaching side of it and that took all my attention. Announcing my retirement kind of fell by the wayside because there were other important things that needed done.”

Doolan is not the type to rest on his laurels. The 36-year-old always planned on entering coaching once he decided to hang up his boots and he has gained a wide range of experience in a relatively short space of time. His work at the Kris Doolan Fooball Academy, set up towards the end of his playing career, allowed him to coach players at grassroots level and a stint at a Scottish FA Elite Performance School gave him the opportunity to work with some of Scotland’s brightest prospects.

“It was amazing,” Doolan recalled with a smile. “I always planned on opening a football academy that helps young players. There was no better time to do it than when I was finishing playing: I already had all my coaching badges. It was about helping young players – at any level, at every level – get somewhere.

“Not everyone is going to go on and be a professional footballer, we know that, but if everyone can get to a level where they are happy and they’re good at, that to me is success. Being good at something makes you happy and I think that’s where I can provide experience to help them. Opening the academy was always something I planned to do and it has been going really well.

“[Fellow former Thistle striker] James Grady asked me to go to the Elite Performance School and that was an amazing experience because they were some of the best young players in the country. They go on to become first-team players because the performance schools are built around developing national team players so the standards they set, the levels they reach in training, are based around building international players. So that pressure on you to put on sessions that deliver on a daily basis – that was another big step forward in my coaching.

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“It’s funny – I used to work with Paul McDonald [head of the Thistle Weir Youth Academy and Doolan’s interim assistant] I don’t know how many years ago. I was a teenager and he was a coach at Kilmarnock as part of a community programme. Paul was the boss and I was in working for him and I was working full-time for him almost to deliver the community programme.

“It’s funny how football just throws up all sorts of strange and wonderful happenings. I did the coaching before I played and then stopped that to become a player, and then I went back to it as soon as I finished. So it was always something I was going to return to.”

A career in the dugout was always Doolan’s ambition and so the prospect of a return to Firhill as manager some day has had an air of inevitability about it all. Few could have predicted it would all happen quite so soon – least of all the man himself – and he admits that his first time on the touchline, last week’s 1-0 win for Thistle away to Ayr United, felt a little unusual, to say the least.

“It was surreal,” he said. “It was a surreal thing to be happening anyway but to have that first game away at Somerset and to walk away with three points; I was so proud of the players and the way they handled everything because it had been a tough week. There is no getting away from that, we all know that.

“The way the players approached the game, the way the fans turned up to back them – that’s what Partick Thistle is all about. We have all been through tough times together and to see everything come back again, in terms of the players giving their all on the pitch and the fans appreciating that. Every single player that was on the pitch, whether they played for two minutes or for 90, gave everything. To me, that’s what it’s all about to play for this football club.”

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With a summer testimonial arranged for Stuart Bannigan, Thistle’s long-serving midfielder and a former team-mate of Doolan’s, the prospect of the interim manager dusting off his boots and scoring one last goal at Firhill remains an enticing one for Jags fans – and Doolan as well, should he receive the call.

“You can never get enough goals at Firhill,” he grinned. “I did it for so long and it’s just a great feeling when you score in front of the support here at Firhill – or at any ground, with the travelling support of Partick Thistle. It’s just a terrific feeling and I’m hoping we can do the same at Arbroath and send everybody home happy.”

When Doolan hit his century of goals for Partick Thistle, he lifted up his jersey to reveal a T-shirt underneath that read ‘100 and counting’. It was both a celebration of his prowess and a tantalising promise of more to come. Today, he will lead the team at Gayfield in just his second game in management but does so with one win under his belt. And counting.