Saturday 14 December 2019

Roy Curtis: 'The time has come to make a tough decision on Seamus Coleman - Matt Doherty must start Euro playoff'

Matt Doherty impressed for Ireland at right back in the 1-1 draw with Denmark. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Matt Doherty impressed for Ireland at right back in the 1-1 draw with Denmark. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

SEAMUS COLEMAN conveys himself through life with the incorruptible air and selfless sense of duty of the soldier every general wishes to carry his battle standard.

Coleman is a natural-born leader, the kind whose DNA would be in high demand if football ever embraced cloning.

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At his peak, operating within that bubble of imperturbable cool that is his natural habitat, the son of Donegal had legitimate claims to the best Premier League full-back gong.

But if Coleman remains a voice of authority in the Irish dressing room,  and if, at 31 he has hardly strayed beyond the sunset, still he is confronted today with a stark reality.

For so long as Mick McCarthy stubbornly clings to the belief that both Coleman and Matt Doherty can only be considered on the right side of defence, the national captain’s prospect of play-off game time hangs by a shopworn thread.

Against Denmark, the Wolverhampton player showcased the high-grade qualities that have played such a central role in the impressive renovation of Black Country football.

Doherty offers movement and passing as powerful and immaculately engineered as a Bavarian automobile.

Purring with the athletic thrust that is such a valued commodity in the modern game, the Dubliner has the air of a player still to explore the outer limits of his talent.

Before the end of his first competitive start in his favoured position, he had established himself as joint leading scorer in Ireland’s too frequently anaemic eight-game campaign.

In the past 14 months, Doherty has netted 11 times for club and country, a phenomenal return for a full-back. Quite simply, it would amount to a scandal for an Irish side so impotent in front of goal to ignore those numbers.

Even if McCarthy implicated Doherty when identifying a culprit for the Danish goal, he would be in a tiny minority if he did not believe the 27-year-old had impressively signposted a road to a tantalising future.

As Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have illustrated to electrifying effect at Liverpool, a surging full-back is both a thrilling and game-changing option.

Doherty shares many of their qualities and can supply a razor edge an Irish team that scored just seven times in eight qualifying games so desperately craves.

To omit him from the battle plan in Slovakia would amount to an act of self-harm.

McCarthy is a manager who places a strong emphasis on loyalty and omitting Coleman (suspended for the Danish game) would go against his most closely held beliefs.

But if the manager insists on ignoring a potential solution of finding a place on the pitch for both, then logic insists that the one available shirt must go to Doherty.

Coleman has lost his place at Everton (he came on as a sub yesterday) and, in truth, has not been the same irresistible force since his return from the horrific leg break sustained against Wales 32 months ago.

He surrendered his club and country shirts in identical fashion – via two sendings off in a week.

It is a small sample size but it did it hint at a player struggling a little to get to the pitch of the game?

Even a diminished Coleman remains clearly a class above many of Ireland’s regular starters.

And, while Doherty hardly earned rave reviews when deployed as a right-sided midfielder against Gibraltar, a compelling case can be made for the inclusion of both.

Despite the encouragement of the doyen of old pros, John Giles, it seems an option McCarthy is reluctant to explore.

The repeatedly threadbare offerings from Jeff Hendrick and James McClean suggests that Ireland’s is a midfield that could only benefit from radical surgery.

It was Doherty’s six goals and seven assists in the first six months of last season which persuaded McCarthy to station him in midfield for that Gibraltar game in March.

The manager spoke after that grim encounter as if he had closed the door and thrown away the key on a right sided Coleman/Doherty combination.

"No. It didn’t particularly work well. (Doherty’s) been the best attacking wing-back in the Premier League to be quite honest, but there’s probably been more room on the pitch. When teams are sitting back, had he got the silky skills to go past people? I’m not sure."

What is indisputable on Monday is that Ireland are a more dangerous force when Doherty is on the field.

Denmark were most uncomfortable when the ball went wide to either flank, with Enda Stevens down the left complimenting Doherty’s overlapping runs on the right.

By contrast, Ireland ran into brick walls when they sought to play through the middle; the personnel in midfield lack the guile to open up international class opponents.

McCarthy has made big decisions in the past, notably omitting Robbie Keane from a World Cup qualifier in 2001. Is he prepared to make a similarly headline-grabbing call with Coleman?

Because history is unlike to remember any decision to evict Doherty from Ireland’s first XI as anything less than absurd.

It is time the Irish battle standard was passed into his grasp.

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