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Matt Doherty fit to face Azerbaijan after his body 'shut down' against Portugal

Doherty struggled through the second half in Faro with illness, but says he is ready for selection as Ireland aim to build on their performance with a first win.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

MATT DOHERTY HAS explained the illness with which he was struck down during the second-half of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Portugal on Wednesday, but says he is fit and available for tomorrow’s clash with Azerbaijan in Dublin. 

Doherty played the full game but twice took a breather during the game in Faro – he was seen to by the Irish medical staff on the second occasion and bewilderingly booked by the referee as he made his way off the pitch – and Stephen Kenny revealed post-game that he was struggling with illness. 

“Second-half, I don’t know what hit me. My body shut down and I had pains in my stomach so I didn’t feel great, and every time I went down it wasn’t through injury: I was just really struggling. But I a managed to crawl my way through the second-half and I feel a bit better now.

“It was extremely tough. There was a period in the second-half where I was really struggling but I just couldn’t bring myself to come off so I just decided to stay on.

“Whether that was for my own good or not I don’t know but I managed to get through it and see out the 90 minutes, but I feel better now.

Ireland must move on quickly from the hurt of Faro, though Doherty did briefly allude to it at his pre-match press conference. “It is difficult and it does hurt. When you are sitting in your room at night you do think about it, and we had five minutes to hold out. I guess the worst thing is that we actually lost. It’s okay for them to score but you still think that, ‘Okay, we drew, that’s fine, they scored at the end’. But to concede twice does hurt a lot.”

Ireland must now build on the promise of that performance against the group’s lowest seeds at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow night, where they must avoid reporting the pitfall of March, when an encouraging showing away to Serbia was followed by the flat, dreadful defeat at home to Luxembourg. 

There is guaranteed to be one significant different tomorrow, mind: there will be up to 25,000 fans in the Aviva Stadium for the Azerbaijan clash, albeit with tickets still available on general sale. 

Doherty was unambiguous about the benefits of their return. 

“I really, really needed the crowd back. My game changes a little bit when the fans are there. I feel like I’m able to go to a different level of performance and I’m sure that’s the same for almost everyone really. It will make a big difference.” 

Ireland remain second-from-bottom of Group A after three defeats in three games, with goal difference separating them from Azerbaijan at the foot of the group. In spite of the results, Doherty sees progress made. 

“To be honest there has been quite a bit of growth, The way we have been trying to play came to the fore on Wednesday night. Our confidence with the ball, our confidence in our own ability, our confidence in our shape, everything looked solid.

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“We looked like a dangerous team, we looked like we could cause problems every time we broke forward. We were calm on the ball, we were calm out of possession, we didn’t lose control , we didn’t lose our heads or lose our shape. That is progression over the games, we seem to be looking better, looking more of a threat going forward every time we play.” 

He attributed some of the improvements in performance level to the work done during the June training camp, around which Ireland won for the first time under Kenny – albeit against Andorra – and then drew with Hungary. “We had a good time together”, said Doherty, “we spent some quality time together and got to know different players, so that was a real benefit for us.” 

A win tomorrow night, however, is needed to mint the progress made. 

“Definitely, we need to get a win anyway to get into the group. We know we’re going in the right direction in terms of performance, but we’re here to win games. We didn’t manage to do that [in Portugal], but Azerbaijan is the next game and we need three points to get up and running.” 

Ireland are without Shane Long owing to a positive Covid test for tomorrow’s game, with Dara O’Shea and Nathan Collins ruled out with injury. Alan Browne and Callum Robinson are called up to the squad having left their respective Covid isolation periods, while Liam Scales has been called up for the first-time, just days after he completed a transfer to Celtic from Shamrock Rovers. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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