Saturday 15 December 2018

Kevin Palmer: 'Matt Doherty should be a shining light for Irish optimism and yet he remains shaded by pessimism'

Matt Doherty. Photo: Sportsfile
Matt Doherty. Photo: Sportsfile
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

In an era when Irishman have struggled to locate the door to the Premier League, Matt Doherty should be held aloft as a shining light.

When you have spent the early years of your working life being knocked back by a host of clubs in England and Scotland while earning €200-a-week working for your Dad's carpet cleaning company in Dublin, the desire to make sacrifices to crack the big-time in English football is in-built and that has served Doherty well as his career hit the lift-off button last season.

He had become a regular in the Wolves first team long before Nuno Espírito Santo arrived as his latest Wolves manager, but this was a moment Doherty needed to seize and he has done that in the grand manner.

With a Chinese-funded transfer kitty that was always likely to fire Wolves into the Premier League and more than enough spare change to replace the Irishman he would not have been familiar with before this arrival in English football, Espírito Santo wasted little time in encouraging Doherty to embrace his vision for a future at the top and he has jumped aboard his train with relish.

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Ireland's Matt Doherty. Photo: Sportsfile

So when the Wolves boss took him to one side in one of his early training sessions at Wolves and asked him whether his body fat levels were suitable for an elite sportsman, Doherty was given the encouragement he needed to change his lifestyle and move to the next level.

He has shed a stone in weight after he has cut out the microwave diners, sweets and fizzy drinks that were a regular part of his diet, with his dedication to the game part of the reason why he is succeeded where so many Ireland players have come up short of late.

The end result has been that Doherty has barely missed a game for Wolves in at a time when they have bolted into the Premier League, with his Portuguese manager full of praise for a player who has become as integral a part of his side as big-money signing Jota and Ruben Neves.

"Since my first game here, he was one of the players that has played the most minutes and there is a reason for this," explains Santo, who is set to include Doherty in his side for today's game against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.

"What I want is what he is giving me and giving his team-mates, not only in the offensive part but in defence and set-pieces because he's a very important player.

"I also believe he can do a lot more. He can score more goals, improve his game and what I see from him every day in his attitude on the training pitch and his philosophy off the pitch confirms he is ready to take that next step. He has been a great player to have with us on this journey."

After so many failed trails in English football, Doherty could have been forgiven for fearing his Premier League dream was destined to die until he finally landed a chance to join Wolves under the guidance of manager Mick McCarthy eight years ago in a £75,000 deal in 2010.

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Matt Doherty of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates his goal. Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Eight years on and Doherty has belatedly become an overnight sensation, as he is proving his worth against some of the most feared attacking players in world football every week.

His achievements are all the more commendable when you consider he has thrived in a Wolves team playing a brand of attacking football that would not normally be viewed as a natural habitat for an Irish player.

The kid who emerged through the ranks at Home Farm and was given a trial by then Wolves boss Mick McCarthy back in 2010 has taken the long route to success after he was rejected by more than a dozen English and Scottish clubs in his teenage years.

Amid the positivity that should envelop Doherty, the perception lingers that Ireland boss Martin O'Neill is yet to be entirely convinced that Doherty is a player equipped to perform in his misfiring side, as he suggested his selection for last month's game against Denmark was designed to protect the Wolves man as his competitive debut at the Aviva Stadium.

It could have been viewed as something of patronising comment for a player who may deserve better, but Doherty has overcome bigger knock-backs to take his career further than most Irishman have managed in the last five years.

This is a success story we should all salute, even if some appear to be curiously reluctant to embrace it.

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