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'The last 3 or 4 years have gone almost perfect for me'

Matt Doherty reflects on a whirlwind few weeks as he prepares to face Slovakia tomorrow night.

Matt Doherty (file pic).
Matt Doherty (file pic).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IN THE PAST couple of seasons, you would be hard pressed to identify an Irish player who has been in better form than Matt Doherty at club level.

Last August, he was rewarded for consistently excellent displays in the Premier League at Wolves, making a big-money move to Spurs.

As he prepares for Ireland’s Euros play-off with Slovakia on Thursday, Doherty can reflect on a dream decade that has seen him go from an inexperienced youngster not playing regular first-team football at Bohs, to being one of the most highly rated players in his position across Europe and working under one of the most famous coaches on the planet.

“I’ve settled in really well, really nicely [at Tottenham],” he told reporters today. “I feel pretty comfortable there at the moment in terms of just being around the place. It’s been a really top-class month for me.”

And he did he ever imagine that when he first started at Bohs, he would end up working with Jose Mourinho?

“No, I guess I never really thought of it like that, but once the opportunity came, then it was a straight: ‘Yes, I want to go there and I want him to manage me and coach me and try to improve me.’

“Once the opportunity arose, it was a straight ‘yes’ for me.”

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And of course, Ireland qualifying for the Euros would be the perfect way to cap off a brilliant period for Doherty.

“The last three or four years have gone almost perfect for me,” he says. “I wouldn’t really change anything really. So if this was to happen, it would be pretty special, especially considering the games are in Dublin and the atmosphere and hopefully fans there at that stage as well. The atmosphere in the country would be special.

“It wouldn’t be the same if the Euros were on in Dublin and Ireland weren’t there.”

Doherty’s switch to Spurs means he has to grow more accustomed to the full-back role, as opposed to the wing-back position he normally occupied for Wolves.

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It’s been clear, however, that Jose Mourinho is giving the Irish star plenty of licence to go forward, to the extent that he almost plays as a right winger at times for the North London outfit.

For Ireland though, he has been largely deployed at full-back, undertaking that position in the two games so far under Stephen Kenny.

There was some criticism that Doherty wasn’t playing with the same freedom he demonstrated at club level during last month’s Nations League encounters, and the 28-year-old admits he is still adapting to the role.

Defensively, there’s a big shift in what you have to do. You realise when you play wing-back that you don’t actually have to defend as much. At full-back, you properly have to defend, you have a lot of one-v-ones, you have a lot of people running off the back of you. You have to be switched on at all times, so body position, everything about it defensively is totally different.

“The first month, it’s not been easy on the pitch, so I’m working, they’re telling me what I need to do. I already feel I can improve on certain little things they’ve asked me to try to change in my game defensively.

“Look, it’s not straightforward, but it’s something that I’m really enjoying.”

Doherty also says a lack of pre-season preparation affected his performance amid the Irish team’s disappointing displays against Bulgaria and Finland in September.

“That would be more of a fitness thing. The freedom is there to go forward. There were many reasons why the games were the way they were last time. I don’t think we’ll be getting that type of performance again.”

In general, Doherty adds, the inconvenient timing of the previous camp impacted the team, as they struggled to do justice to Stephen Kenny’s gameplan.

The first camp was a bit difficult. A lot of us came in with no training really. I know a few people might have had a few training sessions, a few games. Myself, I had absolutely nothing at all going into the games. Playing 90 minutes, you’re absolutely shattered afterwards. 

“It’s difficult to judge on that when we went in there with hardly any time at all. It’s not going to happen overnight [adjusting to Kenny's style]. It’ll take a few more training sessions to get the philosophy across. It’s already starting to come across in training.

“Hopefully, it’ll click for us tomorrow night, but things aren’t going to be drastic [compared with] that first camp. That first camp, there were a lot of factors to take into account on that one — the lack of game time, training and the lack of time together.” 

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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