Sunday 20 October 2019

High-flying Doherty would have more caps for Ireland by now if he was born in England

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Matt Doherty
Matt Doherty
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Perhaps if Matt Doherty was English-born he might have had more caps for Ireland. A couple of seasons ago Martin O'Neill would have given the Wolves right-back the competitive appearance necessary to tie him to this country forever.

Instead, the Dubliner - one of the best full-backs in the Premier League - was limited to a handful of cameo friendly appearances before last night's start. It's remarkable really. We're forever moaning about the paucity of Irish players doing well in the Premier League, yet ignoring the claims of a player who's doing so well there that he's just won the PFA Fans Player of the Month award.

This award is not to be confused with the more prestigious EA Sports Premier League Player of the Month but it shouldn't be sneezed at either. Doherty had Eden Hazard and Raheem Sterling behind him in the voting, after all. It makes the way he's been passed over by Martin O'Neill look even odder.

O'Neill took umbrage at the player's recent suggestion in an interview that, "maybe my face doesn't fit".

In fact he took it in that odd, semi-paranoid way which always suggests the Irish manager doth protest too much. In this case O'Neill brought up the fact that the interview had been conducted by the same journalist who'd previously reported similar concerns by Doherty. The implication is, presumably, that words are being put into the Wolves man's mouth. Doherty is well able to speak for himself and his feeling that there are personal reasons behind his strange omission appear well founded.

O'Neill has publicly criticised aspects of Doherty's game in a way which is strange for a manager generally given to excusing all kinds of inadequacies among the players he does select. Doherty's wry observation, "I know he's said he would like me to attack more. Maybe I'll do that. When I first joined up it was my defending that was the problem. Now it's my attacking," suggests the player is not in tune with the manager on this issue.

The 'I know he's said' is the real killer there, suggesting that the only place O'Neill has addressed this perceived deficiency in Doherty's game is in interviews rather than on the training ground. Curiouser and curiouser.

I suspect the Doherty factor also had something to do with O'Neill's intemperate response to Alan Shearer's criticism of Cyrus Christie's dire performance for Fulham against Arsenal. The Irish manager suggested Shearer had "crossed a line" with the criticism and mocked the former England international's brief managerial stint at Newcastle United.

It was all a bit petty, yet the fact that Christie is the player he's been selecting ahead of Doherty in the absence of Seamus Coleman may well have contributed to O'Neill's wrath. The juxtaposition of that Player of the Month award with Christie's nightmare against the Gunners led to obvious and, for O'Neill, embarrassing conclusions.

However, it was good to see the Irish manager admitting that the Republic of Ireland should be aiming at lessening our dependence on English players, a subject he's been a bit touchy on in the past. In truth, you can't argue against a policy of developing national talent anymore.

The Grealish and Rice sagas have done us the service of revealing how a dependence on English players removes a crucial element of control from the equation. If a really first-rate talent is turned up by the parentage rule, he'll always have one eye on England. For all the guff talked about second-generation Irish identity, we will only ever get English-born players who are not good enough to make it with their own country.

Doherty is a product of the League of Ireland, albeit one who didn't play in the league because he was picked up by Wolves after playing for Bohemians in a friendly against them. The potential advantages of improving the League of Ireland rather than trawling Birmingham and Bristol for lads with likely-sounding surnames should be obvious at this stage.

I write all this before last night's game with Denmark because all the points made, including those about Doherty, were valid irrespective of what happened over just one match at the Aviva.

Jurgen Klopp is right about the pointlessness of the Nations League. It is pointless for most countries. For Ireland, on the other hand, any bit of encouragement is welcome. A rare award for one of our Premier League players, the first since one for Robbie Keane in 2007, should be a cause for jubilation. Instead, the gloss has been somewhat removed by the suspicion it's hardly a source of joy for the Irish manager.

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