The Sportsman’s Road to Wembley continues in the FA Cup as we return to Blackburn Rovers, who knocked out Premier League Leicester City in round five. This is a journey that began with Trafford FC in the very first preliminary round, and we are now just one win from Wembley, as Rovers travel to Sheffield United in the quarter-finals. We caught up with winger Tyrhys Dolan, who scored the opening goal at the King Power to open his account in the competition.
“That was a massive one for me, against a Premier League side,” Dolan says, recalling his goal that put Rovers 1-0 up. “It was a big game for us, and my first FA Cup goal. So yeah, that was a special moment for me.
“I feel the sharpest I've felt in my Rovers career and yeah, just really in a good space at the minute you know, the team is buzzing and so that helps me as a player as well. And yeah, I'm just happy with the way things are going.”
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Blackburn have embarked on a terrific run of form since the turn of the year and are currently on an unbeaten run that stretches 12 matches in all competitions. During that run they’ve beaten their FA Cup last eight opponents Sheffield United 1-0 at Ewood Park, having lost 3-0 to the Blades earlier in the season.
“Yeah, really confident,” Dolan says, looking ahead to the tie, which is live on ITV1 on Sunday. “I think about the 3-0, I think we're a completely different team now than what we were, I feel like we're a lot stronger. And we're all working a lot harder. We're gelling together better as a team. We're understanding what the manager wants us to do. So I feel like we're a completely different team from back then. And yeah, really excited now for the FA Cup. And yeah, just keep going and see where it takes us.”
Now the club are just 90 minutes away from making their first appearance at the ‘new’ Wembley. And the 21-year-old is letting himself dream of playing under the famous arch, at the home of football.
“I think if people say that they're not thinking about it then they are lying!” he laughs. “Of course, I think about it. For me, I think as a young player to play at Wembley is crazy. And for the boys it is a big achievement. So that's kind of motivation, because it's not something that we're worried about, we want to work hard to get there. They're the games that we want to be playing in the big stadiums, big games, so yes, it's alright to dream.”
The club currently sit fourth in the Championship and are flying in the league and the FA Cup. Huge credit has to be given to manager Jon Dahl Tomasson, who we spoke to ahead of the win over Leicester. He only joined in the summer, but has embarked on a campaign that could see Rovers visit Wembley on more than one occasion.
“He gives us a lot of advice, which helps,” Dolan says of the former AC Milan striker turned manager. “We have a lot of chats with him. I have a lot of conversations with him and he is good at that. You can see the team's changed from what it was last season. It's a different philosophy. And yeah, I feel like we're really putting it all together from the second half of the season, I'd say we're doing it really well. It's not going to be perfect every single week. We know that. But you can see that we're trying to do the right things and credit to the gaffer, it's going really well.”
One of JDT’s clever tweaks this season has been bringing players back into the fold and giving them a starring role. Dolan himself wasn’t a key player before Christmas but in the last two months has formed part of a fantastic front four, alongside Sam Gallagher, Sorba Thomas and Sammie Szmodics.
“I think we all work well together,” Dolan says about his role in the quartet. “I think there's a lot of hard work which is key. You've got Gallagher who doesn't stop running Szmodics' works hard. You see the backtracking that Sorba did the other day in the 80th minute! So that just shows that not just on the ball, there's so much hard work that goes in off it which complements everyone together because we want to work hard for the team and we have to grind out results and that's what we've been doing.”
Still only 21, and now playing the football of his career at the top of the Championship - what does Dolan want to achieve in his blossoming career?
“I want to win trophies, especially with Blackburn Rovers,” he says as a smile emerges. “And to get to the Premier League with Blackburn, that'd be amazing. Knowing that I came here as an 18-year-old and it's the club that gave me my debut. Yeah, to then go and reach the heights that I know we could reach would just be amazing.
“Yeah, [England is also] a dream for me. And I got my shot at the U20s. The U21s is my dream as well to play there. And then hopefully, if we get ourselves into the Premier League, I can get myself in that first team!”