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Doherty's rise from Bohs to big-time

Assured but laid-back Dub's 2010 move mirrors Spurs deal


TOP OF THE TREE: Matt Doherty has come a long from way from his Belvo days with the DDSL in 2007

TOP OF THE TREE: Matt Doherty has come a long from way from his Belvo days with the DDSL in 2007

TOP OF THE TREE: Matt Doherty has come a long from way from his Belvo days with the DDSL in 2007

When John O'Connor became financial director of Bohemians last year, he printed out the terms and conditions of Matt Doherty's 2010 move to Wolves and pinned them to his wall. The hope was that the 10 per cent sell-on clause held by the Phibsborough club would some day become important.

A fortnight ago, the dream became reality. And O'Connor learned that his daily dose of optimism had a small lifespan compared to the patience of former club president turned commercial director Matt Devaney who had a file with the details saved to his computer desktop for the last decade.

It was worth it in the end.

Doherty's £15m move to Spurs has made his departure from Bohs one of the most significant pieces of business in the recent history of Irish football, especially with the news that schoolboy nursery Belvedere are entitled to 20 percent of the Bohs dividend and will also join Home Farm (and Bohs) in collecting a chunk of money arising from a change in FIFA rules that compensates development clubs.

Tom Doherty, Matt's father, admits that he wasn't aware of the add-ons. But he's thrilled by it, having endeavoured to keep in contact with a number of the people that facilitated the formative stages of his son's rise to a new status as an established Premier League player and multi-million pound addition to a Jose Mourinho led dressing room.

In the early summer of 2010, Doherty was cleaning carpets in the family business while Mourinho was basking in the glory of a Champions League success with Inter Milan.

What the youngster always possessed was a inner belief that he was destined for better things, even though he had a carefree exterior that perhaps resulted in underestimation of his capabilities.

In hindsight, there was a strength lingering beneath the surface that ensured he was in the right place at the right time.

THE story of Doherty's transfer to Wolves is built around a friendly with Bohs on July 17, 2010. Doherty was right-back.

Orinn Farrell, an Offaly lad who had arrived at Bohs from Kildare County, was selected at left-full.

"Matt was a funny character," says Farrell, who lives in south Texas now, close to the Mexican border, with an accent containing a slight lilt which indicates he's lived there for a while.

"I had a good relationship with him. He always had us laughing even when he wasn't trying to be funny. He was confident, and yet he was driven at the same time. It was weird. It was like he didn't give a f**k but he was also focused."

Gary Burke, a skilful playmaker that was also pitched in for the Wolves match, recalls the quirkier aspects of Doherty's character, a relaxed streak that would confound others.

"He would always be arguing with the reserve team manager (Eddie Wallace) over fixing his shorts in games while the game was still being played. But he was so calm on the ball, a typical Belvo player who liked little one-twos and he still plays the same way to this day."

This was the beginning of a fraught time inBohs history, yet a group of promising youngsters around the fringes of the first team were largely oblivious to it.

Minds were focused on a Champions League tie with Welsh champions TNS, an encounter Pat Fenlon's charges would lose in mortifying fashion to exacerbate financial pressure brought about by Celtic Tiger miscalculations and the botched sale of Dalymount Park. Kids on the fringes of a seasoned squad were about to become far more important than they realised.

Farrell, Burke and Doherty were surrounded by peers from their age group. Roberto Lopes and Chris Forrester were at the beginning of their careers. Current Bohs skipper Keith Buckley was on the premises too.

The scheduling of money spinning friendlies with Wolves and Aston Villa either side of the TNS second leg gave the back-up options an opportunity to shine against established internationals and English top flight players.

"That was a good time for all of us youngsters," recalls Farrell, "The first team was stacked with the best players in the league so it was really easy to learn when you are around that standard."

Craig Sexton was another kid looking to make his way in the game. Like Doherty, he was born in January 1992 and had made his way to Bohs from Belvedere with a group that also included Kildare GAA's Kevin Feely and the late Graham Parkinson, a talented player struck down by cancer at a tragically young age.

January 1992 was a big month for the birth of future footballers in the capital. St Kevin's Boys products Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick arrived in that timeframe.

Through the mid to late 2000s, Brady and Belvedere's Reading bound Daniel Joyce were the hottest properties of the '92 class. The first choice right full at Belvedere and then in the Bohs U-20s was Leigh Swords, another player that UK clubs were desperate to sign.

When Doherty moved from Home Farm to Belvedere, he was deployed in a variety of positions. He was capped at international level but was not necessarily a high profile player in the context of his generation. Indeed, it was injury issues for the Swords man that opened the door to his longer term home on the pitch.

"We all knew Robbie Brady from the international teams," says Sexton, "Robbie was a star of that generation along with Daniel Joyce. Even Jeff Hendrick wasn't in the top bracket (when they were 16). I did always think Matt had the ability to go away, he was powerful, he had good attributes, but it was hard to know at that age."

What Doherty possessed was personality, a distinctive demeanour that may not always have endeared him to figures of authority. But those who knew him best soon learned that it was an important part of his make-up.

In the Wolves game, experienced centre-half Jason McGuinness was flustered by Doherty getting the wrong side of his man. His attempts to make the point fell on deaf ears.

Mark Rossiter, McGuinness' centre-half partner, was amused by it all. "Jay was shouting at him 'Matt, you're the wrong side' and Matt turned around and said 'Yeah, I hear ya' (while making a gesture as though he was on the phone). 'Relax bro.' McGuinness is turning around to me saying to me 'Rossi, will you f**king tell him will ya to come around here'. I'm laughing at him. He was very laid back."

Sexton, who gave up playing to go down the coaching route early and is now assistant boss at Shelbourne, is convinced that Doherty's 'happy go lucky' attitude was a considerable asset.

"He didn't seem to get flustered and that's probably stood to him," he suggests, "He just turned up and played his football. He was never disruptive. A great lad, a lovely, lovely fella. He didn't get fazed by anything, and that was how he played. Calm and collected.

"Don't get me wrong. He could get annoyed. He had a streak in him and he could look after himself. But he's come through a long time in the Championship where it's rough and tumble and you obviously need to have the right temperament to survive that. A lot of that is probably down to his personality; it's got him to where he is today.

"There was a great batch of players at Bohs then. We weren't aware of all of the messing at the club. The TNS game was a disaster, but Matt had a brilliant seven days."

The inaccurate version of the Wolves tale is that they were wowed by this unknown rough diamond and signed him up. But Mick McCarthy was already looking out for Doherty because his chief scout Dave Bowman was aware of his potential and wanted Bohs to give him a run. It was always going to be a second string Bohs team that featured due to a league game the previous night and the upcoming TNS test. Doherty didn't play especially well. Perhaps McGuinness was right about the positional awareness. "Matt didn't have a great game," asserts Burke. "He barely even lasted an hour if I remember right."

But McCarthy was intrigued enugh to come back and watch the Aston Villa showdown where he excelled in keeping Ashley Young quiet. Bohs won 2-1 with a French trialist, Enzo, scoring the winner but he would never wear Bohemians colours again. Neither would Doherty. "He was unreal in that game," enthuses Rossiter.

Bohs were on a slippery slope, but Doherty was on another trajectory, ready to justify the faith he always had in his own ability.

Faith is a big part of the Doherty family story. Tom hails from Sligo. His wife, Matt's mother Joni, is Dutch with Indonesian heritage. Her father was in the Dutch army and served in Indonesia where he found love. Joni initially came to Dublin to teach the Bible. This was how she met Tom. Matt is a middle child, the fourth eldest of their seven children. Five girls and two boys. The family have strong Christian beliefs.

Growing up in Swords, sport was an integral part of their lives. The girls played Gaelic football or basketball. Tim, the younger brother, has just returned from a soccer scholarship in the US and is playing for Malahide United.

Tom's main sporting passion is his hometown club, Sligo Rovers, and Matt spent a portion of his youth travelling to games watching the Bit'O'Red. There's a photo somewhere in the house of Rovers' English goalkeeper Matt Boswell presenting a jersey to the future star at the end of a season.

Tom was watching Liam Buckley's charges defeat Finn Harps on the WatchLOI service earlier this week and joked to one of his daughters that this was the only result that mattered to him.

He actually had ambitions that Matt would play for 'the Rovers' and arranged a trial via his brother who lives in Grange and had connections that could make it happen.

This was early 2010. Paul Cook was manager. There was a brief disagreement between player and manager over timekeeping for an early morning training session with both standing their ground, but the long and short version of the trip west was that Cook told the Dub he was wasting his time because Sligo didn't have the funds to pay him for his efforts.

Tom got over it as he later learned Rovers were saving their money to bring in Joseph Ndo. He quips that they did the right thing given the inspirational Cameroonian helped deliver a league title and three FAI Cups. Still, it was another sliding doors moment.

In his conversations with his son, Tom had put forward the view that he should pursue a career in the League of Ireland with a view to moving overseas at the age of 21 if he was to achieve his Premier League ambition eventually. Wolves came calling at 18.

The transfer was a vindication of a calculated life plan. Doherty left school early and joined a FAS programme in Cabra that was run in conjunction with the FAI. The flagship graduate recently donated €15,000 to the programme that allowed him to train full-time while he also worked with his father in the carpet business, Aqua Dry, which is still going strong.

Tom's memory of that week in 2010 is that the spirits were lifted after the 'average' Wolves performance when Fenlon called to say that Molineux club wanted him to go across to train. "There was relief after that," says Tom, "And I think he went out against Villa and played with no inhibitions."

Tom was in America when Wolves put an offer on the table.

There's a parallel between 2010 and 2020 in the sense that the two big moves all came together very quickly. Even in the excitement of the Spurs deal, there was a tinge of sadness.

"Wolves have been an unbelievable club for him," he says, "They are terrific people there, the best people. It was out of the blue, but after watching Matt develop across ten years, I was surprised nobody else had come in before now."

There is confidence that the change in circumstances will not alter the mindset. Doherty has two kids of his own and was a regular participant in the family Zoom quizzes during lockdown.

"We are a level-headed family, we are grounded," says Tom, "But I do feel pride when I see all of the players from all of the nations in the world trying to play in England. Not just in the Premier League but even in the Championship or even League One which is a high standard. So from that point of view, to see Matt get to that level, it's great. But he always believed in himself. And I never really doubted that."

The Bohs' background boys of 2010 have gone in a variety of different directions.

Some have become established League of Ireland figures. Forrester has been to England and is back with St Patrick's Athletic. Lopes eventually made the move southside to Shamrock Rovers and will be a key player when AC Milan visit Tallaght this Thursday. Aaron Greene, a Bohs first teamer in 2010, will line up alongside him. Their assistant boss Glenn Cronin was an old head in that Gypsies group.

The law of averages suggested they weren't all going to stick around in the senior game on these shores. Burke is playing amateur football with the formidable Sheriff YC and working in the transport industry. Lee Dixon, another starter against Wolves, also dropped to the junior scene before giving up altogether.

Football wasn't the be-all and end-all for everyone. Stephen Traynor lined out against Wolves and grew in prominence at Bohs in 2011 along with Lopes, Forrester, Buckley, Sexton and Feely when cash problems resulted in an exodus of high earners but Traynor always had an eye on economic opportunities outside the sport, and quit to pursue a career in finance. He's in New York working in asset management for JP Morgan.

Farrell was initially lured to the US by a soccer scholarship, and is now the father of two kids, running a gym business that specialises in both athletic and technical development. He's happy that an old team-mate is thriving.

"I'm not really surprised the way Matt's career is gone," he says. "He was driven, he was clued in. Even as a kid at Bohs, he was upset he wasn't in the first team. His drive was crazy.

"You could see that he was mentally locked into his progression as a player. It's even better that he's got to a club like Spurs now. That's a beautiful climb. He deserves this."

Scarred by past mistakes, Bohs is a healthier, happier club promising to spend this unexpected windfall sensibly. A permanent training ground might be the legacy of an individual that was only ever passing through. Tom says he is 'over the moon' because Gypsies playmaker Keith Ward lives nearby and used to give his neighbour lifts to the FAS course, in addition to impromptu driving lessons.