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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 20 November, 2018
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Doherty acknowledges room for improvement after long-awaited Ireland bow

The Wolves wing-back made his competitive international debut in last night’s draw with Denmark.

HE’LL BE HOPING that the best is yet to come, but irrespective of where Matt Doherty’s career takes him from here, the Dubliner will reflect on the past week or so as a landmark period in his professional football career.

A first Premier League goal for Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend was followed two days later by the English top flight’s Player of the Month award — as voted for by fans — which he won at the expense of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.

Matthew Doherty and Pione Sisto Ireland's Matt Doherty is tracked by Denmark's Pione Sisto. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Doherty continued his progress last night in his hometown. Having had to be patient in his pursuit of an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution at international level, he finally made his first competitive appearance for his country.

Deployed in the right-wing-back berth where he has excelled for Wolves, Doherty played all 90 minutes as the Republic of Ireland earned their first point in the Uefa Nations League by playing out a goalless draw with Denmark at the Aviva Stadium.

He endured a nervy moment just before half-time when attempting to clear a dangerous cross to the back post, yet Doherty’s full debut could still be described as solid, albeit not spectacular.

The 26-year-old played his part as a stubborn Irish rearguard yielded the team’s first clean sheet in seven attempts, but manager Martin O’Neill’s safety-first approach didn’t afford Doherty many opportunities to show what he can offer as an offensive threat.

“It was different, it was tough, but I enjoyed it,” Doherty said afterwards. “I can’t put my finger on it but it was definitely different to club football. I started and I was fine. I wasn’t great or anything like that so I’ve got some stuff to work on. It was a good experience though.”

Denmark, who were missing playmaker Christian Eriksen due to injury, had to settle for a stalemate against a team they put five goals past at the same venue 11 months earlier. 

Continuing to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation, Ireland’s best spell came after the 65th-minute introduction of Callum Robinson. Nevertheless, the home side were thankful for a draw, particularly in the context of last month’s 4-1 defeat to a Wales side who they’ll host at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday. 

Matthew Doherty Doherty pictured before making his full debut for Ireland last night. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“They [Denmark] were fine,” Doherty said. “They kept the ball down nice and tidy. We pretty much restricted them to shots from outside the box. There was nothing too clear-cut. They were nice and tidy. They probably missed Eriksen.

“You could definitely feel [the atmosphere in the second half]. We got a few corners, had a few decent passages of play, didn’t manage to put the ball in the back of the net but we kept it out at the other end as well. We got the clean sheet at the end of the day so our formation worked.” 

As a key man for a side who have made an impressive return to the Premier League — Wolves are currently seventh with just one defeat so far this season — Doherty has generated plenty of discussion among fans and media in recent weeks. However, he insists that the extra attention is something he has remained mostly oblivious to.

“I’ve actually not seen that much, to be honest. My parents or my sisters might send me the odd article or something like that, but that’s pretty much all I’ve seen. My dad has seen quite a bit because he lives here. I don’t actually live here so I don’t see most of the media stuff.”

When asked about picking up the Premier League Fans’ Player of the Month award, Doherty joked: “My sisters probably had the majority of the votes because I’ve got quite a big family. But I’ll take it all day long. To get that sort of recognition is something to be proud of.”

It couldn’t be described as a dream debut, but Matt Doherty certainly did enough in his first full international to suggest that his face finally fits for Martin O’Neill. 

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Paul Dollery

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