If anyone from the Ireland squad deserves a break after a long season, it is Matt Doherty but not until he caps it off with a 50th appearance today.
The 26-year-old was a mainstay of the Wolves team which blazed to the Championship title this season and he’s got international ambitions to achieve next.
Aside from a mini-break to Las Vegas gifted by the club to their triumphant team last month, Doherty had been flat out for 11 months. The downtime arranged for Portugal and Greece from Monday will be all the more relaxed should he feature against the USA today for his third cap, a first on home soil.
Doherty has been around long enough not to be deemed experienced rookie material for the Ireland team, but his delay in breaking in stems from one problem: Seamus Coleman.
Predominantly a right-back, Doherty’s mission is to displace the one member of the Ireland team that David Meyler believes could slot into the French side so utterly dominant in Monday’s friendly win over the Irish.
The Dubliner has sampled bit-part roles from the bench in the two friendlies contested since Martin O’Neill embarked on a squad overhaul from the ashes of the World Cup play-off exit.
But even one of the shrinking cohort of Premier League players next season concedes he’ll be playing second, or maybe third, fiddle to Coleman when the competitive series resumes in September with the Uefa Nations League group matches.
One man’s misfortune, however, can create a window for another, as seen when Coleman’s absence with a broken leg facilitated the inclusion of Cyrus Christie for the second half of the World Cup qualifiers.
While Doherty wouldn’t wish harm on any teammate, he’s realistic to know the occupancy of his preferred role is beyond his reach for a couple of years.
He waited long enough to secure a squad spot so he’s not making assumptions about the next step.
“Three Irish right backs — myself, Seamus, and Cyrus — will be in the Premier League next season and we’ll snap at each other’s heels for the place,” he reasoned.
“I’ve got to think my chances of involvement will improve from playing in the Premier League.
“Before then, though, I need some time off. We’re back in pre-season training on June 27, so I’ll be looking for an extra week off.”
Nuno Espirito Santo will likely afford Doherty his wish. Despite the Portuguese boss investing heavily in the squad last season, the sole Irishman survived the changeover in personnel and is in line to retain his starting slot.
Seven years ago, Doherty was handed his top-flight debut by Mick McCarthy but this time he’s heading back to the stage as a regular.
“He’s a top-class coach and the first one we’ve had since Mick who has instilled discipline in us. I’ve learned a lot from him and that’s over only one season. Imagine what it’s like after a few; I could really progress.
“Some people might say different but I like the arm around the shoulder from a manager. I don’t need to be shouted at too much; the rocket scares me.
“Still, however, I got one from him at half-time in the away game at Sheffield United after allowing Enda Stevens get a cross in. The manager can love you and tear into you at the same time; he’s got the ideal balance.”
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