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'He couldn't get first-team football at Bohs' - new Spurs signing Matt Doherty's remarkable rise

The Dubliner recently completed a move to Jose Mourinho’s side.

Matt Doherty during his days with the Ireland U15s squad.
Matt Doherty during his days with the Ireland U15s squad.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

IT’S HARD to remember the last time an Irish footballer’s stock was as high as Matt Doherty’s is currently.

The Dublin-born full-back has just completed a £15 million move from Wolves to Tottenham, and will become the first Irish international to play regular football under Jose Mourinho since Damien Duff.

Yet usually even for the most talented footballers, life in the sport tends to be a rollercoaster and Doherty’s career trajectory is no exception to that rule.

As a youngster, he spent time with local side Swords Celtic, as well as Home Farm and Belvedere, while also representing Ireland’s underage teams in this era.

After turning 17, Doherty joined Bohemians in the League of Ireland and spent the next year and a half there.

Then, in July 2010, a seemingly innocuous fixture would prove life-changing for the teenage full-back.

Doherty played 55 minutes for the Gypsies in a 3-0 friendly loss to Mick McCarthy’s Wolves, and in that short period, did enough to convince the English club that he was worthy of a trial.

Then, on 22 August 2010, the move to England was completed.

Originally, the chance appeared to have passed him by. Portsmouth, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Derby and Charlton all gave Doherty an opportunity to try out in his mid-teens, but a permanent move across the water did not materialise.

At the time of the Wolves game, the Irish starlet had been combining playing with Bohs and work at his father’s carpet and upholstery cleaning business.

When I knew I was playing in the friendly against Wolves, I knew it would be a chance to impress,” Doherty told the club website, after sealing the move.

“Bohs had played a game the night before, so a few of us came into the team and I got a chance.

“I only played 55 minutes of the game and was marking Matt Jarvis.

“I thought I did okay against him, because he’s very quick and can go on both sides of you.

“That was my first time in the Bohs first team and then I played again in the friendly with Aston Villa the week after.

“Sometimes things like that just happen.

“Now I’m here, and hopefully I can get into the reserve team and stay there. And if I do, try and kick on from there.”

Doherty, who followed in footsteps of another accomplished Irish full-back in making the move from Bohemians to Wolves — Stephen Ward — ended up exceeding most people’s expectations.

In January 2011, less than six months after completing the move for a reported £75,000 fee, Doherty made his senior debut in an FA Cup tie against Doncaster Rovers. The following September, he made his Premier League bow amid a 2-1 loss against a Kenny Dalglish-managed Liverpool, coming on for Richard Stearman at half-time. However, that game would prove an anomaly, as the inexperienced defender did not appear again in the top flight that season, as Mick McCarthy’s men were relegated.

After encouraging early loan spells with Hibernian and Bury, by 2012, he was getting more game time for his parent club, and proceeded to establish himself as a regular in the side over the next few years. Moreover, while most of the team who were part of that League One campaign in 2013-14 and the Championship side of a year later have now left, Doherty has remained ever-present amid a period of significant change with many millions invested into the club. He was Wolves’ Player of the Year in the 2015-16 season and has continued to be a key member of their squad since their first term back in the Premier League in 2018-19.

With the high-profile move to Spurs now completed, it’s been a remarkable journey for Doherty. 

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It was clear he had talent from an early age, but whether he would fulfil it was far from a certainty.

matt-doherty-and-gerado-bruna Bohs' Matt Doherty and Gerardo Bruna of Liverpool pictured during a 2009 friendly. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Former Bohs player Tony O’Connor coached their reserve team while Doherty was at the club.

“I knew he was better than what he was doing when he was with us,” O’Connor told The42 in an interview last year. “Sometimes I see Matt and think ‘he just does enough’. When he was playing with us, he’d just do enough to be on top of his game. He could have pushed himself more. It’s just the way he is. If an opposition player upped his game against him, he’d up it more than the opposing player. He was one of them quality players that could just lift the gears if needed.

“He was so laidback, it’s unbelievable. I used to say ‘is this fella for real, he has so much potential’. He’s a fantastic player.”

Former UCD and Limerick boss Martin Russell also remembers encountering a young Doherty at a time when it was not a certainty that he would have a long-term career in football.

Russell praises the work-ethic and ability that has brought Doherty so far in the game, but cites his early struggles as a classic example of how some young players can take longer to develop than others. 

“Matt wasn’t a regular at Bohs around the time they played that friendly,” Russell tells The42. “Now, with the same individual, Spurs are paying millions for him.

“I remember Matt being on the FÁS [Further Education and Training] course against our FÁS course [team] when I was coach. I remember him from the time, with him being a Belvedere lad [like me], he was looking to get first-team football, because he couldn’t get it at Bohs.

“You need some things to go for you, because it doesn’t make much sense that a player that wasn’t playing regularly at Bohs at 18 is now a [big-money] player. You wouldn’t think it goes that way. But it just shows you that things can happen in football.

“We had Kevin Doyle on the FÁS course at St Pat’s [where Russell worked as an assistant coach] at the age of 18, 19. If you look at Seamus Coleman at 18, he was playing for Sligo at the time. There was a situation with Seamus where the English manager [Rob McDonald] was trying to loan him out to Finn Harps and he didn’t want to go, so he was stuck with him. It was only when Paul Cook came in as manager that he gave him a go. 

“So these stories are evident throughout football and will continue to be. You just do the best you can and players will have different levels of success at different times.

It is a precarious job being an athlete, and you do need a little bit of luck and good timing along the way. Unless you’re Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but most players will need a little bit.

“You then wonder what about the ones down in League One and Two.”

Doherty is one of a high number of current Irish internationals who started out with League of Ireland clubs, and Russell believes people underestimate how many domestic players have the potential to succeed in England if given the chance.

“The lads that play at the top level in Ireland, if you put them in a Championship side and left them there for six months, they couldn’t be dropped. In those six months, they’d show enough, people would see more positives than negatives.

“And if you put a fella from the Championship in a Shamrock Rovers team, they’re not necessarily guaranteed three points at the end of the week.

“Between all the players at a decent level, there’s very little difference if they have a certain amount about them. Therefore, it can be about timing and reputation. 

“I’ve been in dressing rooms with players and think ‘he’ll do well, he’ll do well,’ and not that they didn’t do well, but other players I thought wouldn’t have the ability and attitude have had longer careers, but this is football.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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