Wednesday 21 February 2018

Doherty: 'You want to test yourself and see if you can hack it'

Wolves defender relishing Stoke clash as he looks to bolster Ireland credentials

Matt Doherty is concentrating on his Wolves form rather than focusing on Ireland. Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images
Matt Doherty is concentrating on his Wolves form rather than focusing on Ireland. Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Two minutes into our discussion, Matt Doherty casually mentions that he fancies becoming a manager one day.

It's not what you expect to hear from a 24-year-old footballer, but then Doherty has seen enough comings and goings during his time at Wolves to have a think about the profession.

This weekend is the sixth anniversary of the Dubliner's debut in English football, when Mick McCarthy pitched him into an FA Cup tie away to Doncaster.

Doherty, who had earned a move on the strength of an impressive performance for Bohemians in a friendly during Wolves' pre-season tour the previous summer, was a fresh face in a dressing-room packed with senior Irish experience.

Stephen Hunt, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ward were all involved that afternoon. Kevin Foley was at the club then too, and Aaron McCarey and Anthony Forde were in his age bracket around the fringes.

The Swords lad is the only remaining member of that group. McCarthy's departure and the relegation that followed under Terry Connor kicked off a period of turbulence which took Wolves down to League One and then back up to Championship level again.

Uncertainty

Stale Solbakken, Dean Saunders, Kenny Jackett and Walter Zenga have all been and gone - Jackett stayed for three years but none of the others managed a full campaign - and Paul Lambert is the current gaffer having arrived in November. The uncertainty hasn't put Doherty off pursuing that profession somewhere down the line.

"I've tried to get different ideas from everyone's way of doing things," he explains. "Management is something I'd like to do in the future, so I look at the different ways of training, the routines.

"I want to try and stay in the game and maybe have that responsibility: picking teams, telling players they're dropped. It's something that I might enjoy. It's not common to think that way (at his age) but it's something that is appealing to me.

"Some boys are talking about starting (the process) in the summer and, as it's something that would interest me, I may as well get my badges early so I'm not thinking about starting it at 31, 32. I'll already have them."

He is quick to stress, however, that he has a decade of football in his legs. The career graph would suggest his best days are ahead.

Doherty was one of the Irish success stories in England in 2016, even if it fell slightly below the radar with Wolves plugging around in mid-table. The versatile defender hasn't always been the flavour of the month with the managers he worked with, although his only real bad Wolves experience came under Solbakken.

"Every manager here apart from him has liked me," shrugs Doherty, sitting in a chair at the reception of Wolves' Compton Park base. "And if you ask any player, they'll like the manager if they are playing them. If you're not playing, you're probably trying to find excuses when it's probably your fault."

What is clear, though, is that Doherty has matured from stop-gap to established regular. He was involved in every single league outing in 2016 and scooped all of Wolves' player of the season awards last May, topping the poll of fans and players.

He took extra satisfaction from being honoured for his contributions from left back, a position that he had never tried at any stage of his life before Jackett experimented during an injury crisis.

That said, he accepts there are areas where he can improve.

"I still neglect my defensive position at times," he smiles. "The modern-day full-back has to be able to attack, and these days a lot of them seem to be better going forward than defensively.

"I enjoy it, you can make things happen, it's like being a winger sometimes and you've got to be in good shape, but we've conceded a lot of goals so maybe I should start concentrating on that a little bit more."

Failed

The Belvedere graduate did get an Irish call from Martin O'Neill for last March's double-header with Switzerland and Slovakia yet he failed to get on the pitch. At the moment, he's on the outside of the Irish picture looking in.

"If they like me, they'll pick me. If they don't, they won't," he says, matter of factly. "I'm not playing for Wolves just so I can get in squads. I'm concentrated on playing for Wolves. The Championship is such a grind, there's so many games that you really don't have time to think about things that aren't quite happening."

Still, he is desperate to figure in Wolves' FA Cup date away to Stoke tomorrow afternoon because he recognises the value of shining against higher-calibre opposition.

"We've got 5,000 away fans going to the game against a Premier League team," he points out. "I want to play. We're playing against a team that will be better tactically and maybe physically than what we normally face, a team with top-quality internationals, so you want to test yourself and see if you can hack it."

Another reason for his enthusiasm is that his father, Tom, arrives in tonight for his first match of the season. In Doherty's early days in the UK, he would be a regular visitor, even for reserves outings.

Now that his son is comfortable in his surroundings and living in his own place ten minutes away from the training ground, the visits are less frequent. Tom is a busy man too, running the family business - Aqua-Dry Carpet Cleaning - which eats up a lot of his time.

"Dad works hard so he deserves the weekend off," says Doherty, who is adamant that a rest is the last thing on his mind. He may have come a long way from that January afternoon at Doncaster, but cup opportunities can still help to put him on the map.

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