Doherty has been poorly served by his country

Mick McCarthy has never had much truck with spin.

Doherty has been poorly served by his country

Mick McCarthy has never had much truck with spin.

Through his long career in management, he has spoken with the sort of blunt force that condemned Gheorghi Hagi to the turf time and time again on that fabled day in Genoa almost three decades ago and yet the man isn’t without nous when it comes the nuances of public perception.

His response when asked about the tennis ball controversy after last Tuesday’s Ireland-Georgia game was to joke about how, with one betting company offering odds on him being struck on the back of the crown, he turned to face the crowd, ready to ape his great days at the old Lansdowne Road by butting danger into the stands.

A wisecrack it may have been, but McCarthy was clearly not going to be the butt of any jokes, or a hostage to fortune. He knows better than anybody, given his insistence in standing tall in the face of the abuse he took at Portman Road during his Ipswich Town days, how a manager’s conduct on the touchline can either assert his authority or chip away at it.

There’s no more obvious example of that than Steve McClaren’s decision to use an enormous umbrella for cover as the heavens opened on Wembley in 2007 and his England team were beaten by Croatia in a crucial European Championship qualifier. Dubbed the ‘Wally with a brolly’, McClaren’s career has never fully recovered.

Not everyone latched on to such a cruel and inconsequential issue in the wake of England’s failure to make a major tournament for the first time since USA ‘94. Don Howe, the former England coach, was among those to zoom in on the repeated failure on the parts of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to work a groove together in the international setup.

Howe wrote in the Daily Telegraph that: “Their lack of chemistry caused midfield impotence which was at the heart of England’s miserable showing at Wembley when they proved — probably for the last time — that they just can’t hit it off together for their country, although they’re fine players in their own right, who excel for their clubs.”

‘Incompatible’ was the word Howe used elsewhere in the piece but — while Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Erikson had already tried and failed to find an answer to that conundrum before McClaren — Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson would persist in hammering two square pegs into the one round hole for years after.

England weren’t the first innocents to be lured down such a black hole. Many has been the manager beguiled into shoehorning their best players into a starting line-up and that holds across the team sports spectrum. McCarthy, though? He can’t be accused of such folly, not right now given how contented he appears in leaving Matt Doherty out of his starting XI.

The Ireland boss confirmed as much after Tuesday’s defeat of Georgia, all but holding his hands up in a helpless gesture when discussing the experiment in Gibraltar last Saturday when the Wolves player started in front of Seamus Coleman down the right flank and failed to bond over the plastic pitch and under the attentions of a gale-force wind.

The message now is clear: ‘the Doc’ will have to wait.

Now, there is some sympathy for McCarthy here. He has had to launch into a qualifying campaign cold on his return to the role and, with Stephen Kenny warming-up down the touchline for the 2022 World Cup campaign, the man from Barnsley has next to no room to manoeuvre when it comes to trying his hand and giving players room to breathe.

But it’s impossible to avoid the thought that Doherty has been poorly served by his country. A standout servant for an ever-improving Wolves side in recent years, his stats and his awards have been listed countless times before and yet this Premier League gem has been left untouched or half-buried on the bench by Ireland far too often.

Seamus Coleman missed 10 games from March 2017 to March 2018 as a result of the horrific leg break he suffered against Wales two years ago but Doherty was dropped from four of the five provisional squads on which he was named in that same spell by Martin O’Neill and then unused for the other when Denmark claimed that 5-1 aggregate win in the World Cup play-off.

His debut didn’t dawn until he replaced the returning Coleman against Turkey in Antalya and, 12 months on, he has added just five caps. Doherty has played only 203 minutes for Ireland across those half-dozen appearances.

Whatever way you cut the numbers, the guy hasn’t been given a fair go at proving himself at this level.

It may be that Coleman/Doherty are oil and water in the same way as Lampard/Gerrard were with England, but do we really have the resources to dispense with the idea of playing those two together again on the back of one game when the majority of their colleagues were so poor too?

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