Doherty's X-Factor can keep Euro dream alive
MATT DOHERTY will write another chapter in his football fairytale if Ireland secure a place in the European U-19 Championship semi-finals when they face host nation Romania in Berceni tonight (kick-off 5.0 Irish time).
A win for Paul Doolin's charges against the bottom team in the group would almost certainly see them into Friday's last four, even though Greece can mount a late challenge for one of the two spots should they manage to defeat Czech Republic by a much bigger scoreline.
Permutations aside, Doherty's attention will centre on doing his job in a well-drilled Ireland defence. It's a job he has mastered during a year few could have foreseen 12 months ago.
Last week marked the first anniversary of the former Belvedere defender starring in his version of 'X-Factor' when Bohemians welcomed Wolves to Dalymount Park for a low-key friendly.
Mick McCarthy assumed the Simon Cowell role by judging what he saw before him as more than ordinary talent. Doherty hadn't even played a competitive game for the Gypsies, but the former Ireland manager knew he was for him.
A trial for the Swords native netted a two-year contract, and within four months he was sitting behind McCarthy at Ewood Park on the bench.
His full debut arrived soon after, in the FA Cup third-round tie at Doncaster Rovers, and he is well placed to push on at Molineux this term, though a loan move is his priority.
"I couldn't complain about my first season in professional football," reflected Doherty yesterday. "But reaching the semi-finals of the Euros would be fantastic.
"This time last year, I honestly thought I might progress if I played in the Bohemians first team for a few years until I was perhaps 21 and then get a move to England. Maybe that was clutching at straws.
"When I knew I was playing against Wolves in the friendly, I felt this was my opportunity to show what I could do. Then, after the match, Pat Fenlon rang me to say Wolves wanted me on trial.
"I never fully gave up on going to England, even after trials in my earlier years didn't result in any offers. I still thought I had a chance.
"I'd been there a few months and had only come back from injury in December when the manager (McCarthy) told me I was needed for the first-team squad. Ever since, I've been around the squad, whether it was on the bench or up in the stand.
"Making my debut against Doncaster in the FA Cup was the best experience of my life.
"I was only back in pre-season training a week when I left for international duty. I'll have to see what they plan for me when I return, but I imagine a loan move would be preferable.
"This is my second season of a two-year contract. Wolves have the option of extending by another one and I'd like to get that sorted when I go back."
For the time being, Doherty will devote his attention to the international cause. And, conscious of another humid evening ahead of him, the full-back is planning to ensure his energy is used appropriately during what could be a testing 90 minutes.
"I definitely went into Saturday's game haven't not drunk as much water as I should. There was a point in the second half when I felt no real energy.
"It showed at the end, when I was called in for the drugs test. I felt so dehydrated I couldn't even go to the toilet because there wasn't enough liquid in my body. I had to drink six bottles of water and it took two hours. The team were in bed by the time I got back to the hotel."
The hip injury that caused John O'Sullivan to be substituted last Saturday means Doolin will delay confirming his starting team until two hours before kick-off. The Irish manager hinted yesterday that he will make changes to freshen things up.
Ireland (probable) -- McCarey (Wolves); Doherty (Wolves), Egan (Sunderland), O'Connor (Blackburn Rovers), Williams (Aston Villa); Carruthers (Aston Villa), Wearen (West Ham), Ferdinand (Southend), Hendrick (Derby County), Forde (Wolves); Murphy (Bray Wanderers).