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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019

Irish prospect faces 'childhood hero' Rooney along the road less travelled

Sheffield United’s Jordan Doherty will aim to continue his development this year with Tampa Bay Rowdies.

ENGLAND TO THE USA is not a well-trodden path for a teenage footballer intent on carving out a career at the top of the professional game.

Nevertheless, young Dubliner Jordan Doherty is adamant that temporarily linking up with Tampa Bay Rowdies is the right move at the right time.

Earlier this month, the versatile teenager signed for the USL Championship club on a loan deal for the 2019 season from English Championship outfit Sheffield United.

Sheffield United v Ipswich Town - U23 Professional Development League - Stocksbrdge Stadium Jordan Doherty playing for Sheffield United U23s. Source: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Having featured regularly for the Blades’ U23 side this term — occasionally as captain — 18-year-old Doherty reckoned it was time to get a feel for senior competitive action.

The careers of many players have been irreparably impaired by stubborn decisions to stay put, in the hope that a chance to experience first-team football will eventually land in their lap.

With Sheffield United currently challenging for promotion to the Premier League, he was pragmatic enough to recognise that manager Chris Wilder is unlikely to take a chance on a novice at such a critical juncture for the club.

Instead of taking a more traditional route by descending the English football ladder, Doherty has made his way to Tampa to play under former Sheffield United defender Neill Collins.

“I felt I was ready to go and take the next step in my career,” explains Doherty, a holding midfielder — according to his own preference — who can also play across the back four.

“I’ve been playing in the U23s for the last two years so it’s time to challenge myself by getting experience of playing men’s football. That’s what this move is all about.

“I’ve always wanted to go to America anyway, so to be able to do that while playing football is ideal. After I spoke to the management here, they thought the style of football would suit my game and that it would help my progression as a player.

SOC19226_Doherty_Signing_Graphic_1920x1080_large Source: Tampa Bay Rowdies

“The plan is to come out here, gain lots of experience and play loads of minutes so I can go back as a much better player than I was when I left Sheffield. I’m hoping when I do go back to Sheffield United that I can be considered as a first-team player.”

Until he returns to Bramall Lane in November, Doherty will compete in the second tier of US football, where he joins compatriots James Chambers (Bethlehem Steel), Paddy Barrett (Indy Eleven), Niall McCabe (Louisville City) and Richie Ryan (El Paso Locomotive).

Another Irish newcomer to the USL Championship for 2019 is All-Ireland winning former Donegal senior football manager Jim McGuinness, who has been appointed head coach at Charlotte Independence.

As Tampa Bay Rowdies continued preparations for next month’s Eastern Conference opener against Memphis 901 FC, they faced MLS opposition in a pre-season friendly last weekend. 

In the unlikely event that 30-degree sunshine in February hadn’t been enough to convince Doherty that Florida is a worthwhile destination, sharing the pitch with one of his boyhood idols would certainly have eliminated any doubts.

A Manchester United supporter for as long as he can remember, Doherty was introduced as a second-half substitute in the Rowdies’ 1-0 defeat to DC United. 

“After I signed here I saw that we had a game against DC United, but it didn’t click with me until a day or two beforehand,” says Doherty. “Obviously I knew he played for them, but I had been kind of oblivious to the fact that I might end up playing against Wayne Rooney.

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 18.02.12 Jordan Doherty with Wayne Rooney. Source: Instagram/@jordan.doherty8

“I’ve been a United fan all my life so I grew up watching him. He was a bit of a childhood hero. Playing against him was surreal. Honestly, it was like a dream. Being beside him on the pitch, I felt like a little boy.

“When I came on, to get into position I had to jog straight by him. At that moment I was like: ‘Jesus, that’s Wayne Rooney!’ But after that obviously I was just concentrating on my performance so it was just like any other game then.

“But he was quality. Even though he’s older now, it didn’t look to me as if he has lost anything. He always seemed to have time when he got the ball. He was pinging balls about, one touch, two touch, you could see that he has been at the very highest level. It was a dream come true to play against a legend like that.”

Doherty, who has captained his country at U17 and U19 level, is confident that his decision to cross the Atlantic won’t have a detrimental impact on his involvement with a promising Republic of Ireland U19 side. 

Alongside the likes of Tottenham Hotspur attacker Troy Parrott and Manchester United defender Lee O’Connor, he was a member of the squad that topped their group in the preliminary qualifying phase for the Euros by defeating the Netherlands back in October.

Tom Mohan’s team were subsequently among the top seeds in the draw for the elite qualifiers, which take place next month in Russia, where Ireland’s opponents will be Romania, Azerbaijan and the host nation. The group winners will advance to this summer’s European Championship tournament in Armenia.

“Playing in America shouldn’t affect anything for me,” says Doherty. “I’d say it’ll be all good. I’m sure I’ll speak to Tom [Mohan] soon and we’ll see what the story is. Hopefully I can be involved and help the team.” 

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 21.55.15 Ireland U17s, with Doherty third from right in the back row, celebrate after qualifying for the 2017 Euros. Source: Instagram/@jordan.doherty8

Before captaining Ireland at the U17 Euros in Croatia two years ago, Doherty stated that their aim was to go all the way. Although they ultimately suffered a 1-0 quarter-final defeat to a star-studded England side that contained Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund) and Phil Foden (Manchester City), Doherty’s pre-tournament comments provided an insight into the mindset of this generation of Irish youngsters.

“We know we’ve got quality players and we all believe in each other and the management,” he says. “We have strong belief in ourselves to compete with any team, which I think is a good mentality to have.

“Everyone’s main goal is to try and eventually push their way towards that senior squad from where they’re at now, which is healthy. There’s a lot of competition between very good players. That can only be a good thing for Ireland.

“There’s a lot of players coming through, playing above their age group and looking to progress as quickly as they can. I definitely think it’s a good time for Irish football. The future is bright.” 

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Paul Dollery

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