Tuesday 17 September 2019

'I didn't know I was doing wrong things' - Matt Doherty a new man as he eyes Liverpool

Matt Doherty
Matt Doherty

Aidan Fitzmaurice

The first time he played against Liverpool, he was a boy.

Tonight, on his club's Molineux home ground in the English midlands, Matt Doherty faces up to the team from Merseyside again, this time as a man.

Doherty was in his teens, and only in the second season of his career as a professional, when he was given his Premier League debut by Mick McCarthy, a half-time sub for in a 2-1 loss away to Liverpool.

It would be seven years before he got to play in the Premier League again and Doherty, a key player in a Wolves side sitting comfortably in seventh place in the league table, admits it's been a long and winding road to get to where he is now.

"Of course I remember my Premier League debut, 45 minutes at Anfield," Doherty told The Herald.

"And I am a much better player now. When you play in the Premier League at that level you think you have made it. Even though it was only 45 minutes I remember thinking: this is it, I can play at this level now.

"Now I think the timing wasn't right then and my time is now. Maybe when I was in the Championship I wasn't ready but I am now," added Doherty, who dropped down the divisions after that 2011 Premier League appearance, playing on loan with Hibs and Bury, then dropped again as Wolves suffered back-to-back relegations to the third tier.

"Things happen for a reason, I am a better player now, better physically, stronger mentally and over time you get experience. I'm 26 now so I have learned a lot and I feel I am on the right path," explained Doherty.

Ireland's Matt Doherty. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Matt Doherty. Photo: Sportsfile

"That's the thing with professional sport, when you get the chance, you have to take it. People have ability with their feet but you need to have ability in your mind to make you stick with it.

"You see it all the time, some players get to play in big games and they have the drive to keep it going but others end up dropping down the leagues, even end up leaving football.

"To make it you have to stay focused and keep working and never let it go."

Pat Fenlon was the Bohemians manager when they sold Doherty to Wolves for an initial €60,000 (Bohs subsequently banked another €75,000 with add-ons), and he took Doherty on loan to Hibs for the second half of the 2011/12 season.

Last week, Fenlon told The Herald that Doherty's spell there wasn't all plain sailing. "You grow up," Doherty says now, on reflection.

"When I was at Hibs I was living on my own. I couldn't drive, wasn't able to cook. Part of going on loan is getting games but it's also about growing up, making you realise how hard it is.

"You need to see that it's not all great. Going on loan as a young player is the making of you, as you can have loads of loan spells but end up going missing.

"At the start at Hibs I didn't realise that what I was doing was bad and you get that life experience, maybe you need to be told off about things, as I was.

"Hibs wasn't the best experience of my career. I didn't play as much as I wanted, I didn't play as well as I'd have liked. We were in a relegation dogfight and it was a tough experience – but one that did me really well down the road."

Now, Doherty and Wolves are thriving – the team enjoying success and Doherty scoring three goals (only one defender has scored more goals in the Premier League this term).

"I don't get involved in Fantasy Football myself but my mates tell me that I win them a lot of points when I score goals as a defender," he said, laughing.

"I have always scored goals wherever I played, not a huge amount but I have always chipped in, this season I have three goals and three assists. And it feels extra special to score in the Premier League, it's one of the hardest, if not the hardest, leagues in the world."

That goal touch has been with him since those formative years in the DDSL with Home Farm and Belvedere.

"I was a striker when I was younger but I realised the higher up the levels I went, the further back the pitch I went," he explained.

"It happened gradually, I was always up front when we played seven a side. When you move to 11-a-side, I was up front a bit but I'd be centre back and the next week I'd be up front, I could play anywhere, really.

"I think at some stage, someone told me that if you wanted to have a professional career I'd have to focus on playing at the back, I'd go further if I was at the back. And it has worked out OK."

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