Matt Doherty: From Bohemians to Atlético Madrid, and always back to Ireland

Defender honoured to be asked to captain his country for friendly international against Latvia

Promoting Matt Doherty to the Ireland captaincy was a curious call that required more information.

“Will I tell them the truth?” asked Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.

“No,” replied Doherty quietly.

Kenny retold a rare story about a teenager’s 55-minute run for Bohemians against Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2011 turned into a 10-year stint at the Premier League side.


Now, a chunk of that Wolves decade was spent in the Championship, on loan to Hibernian, and even a season in League One, before Doherty hitched a ride back to the top flight.

This is the same Matt Doherty whose €15 million sale to Tottenham Hotspur in 2020 earned Bohs a sell-on fee of €1.5 million. Not bad business for a full back passed over by Portsmouth, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Derby and Charlton Athletic. At the same age Evan Ferguson is banging in FA Cup goals for Brighton, Doherty was working for his dad’s carpet and upholstery cleaning business.

“It hasn’t been straightforward for Matt in his career, he’s not always been one of the main players for Ireland,” said Kenny. “He’s had to bide his time over the years, had to come from the League of Ireland to play in Scotland [on loan].

“Come up the hard way, from League One to the Championship and play in the Premier League regularly. Now with the move to La Liga, it’s been his own personal journey which has not been straightforward, he’s had to fight hard and adapt, consistently adapt to go up the various levels. He has done that very well.”

There followed a fresh tale about Doherty insisting on playing hurt against Hungry in June 2021.

“He put the team before himself.”

Doherty did not hide his surprise. “It’s a great honour, I didn’t expect it. I’ve to thank Stephen for doing that, I know he believes in me a lot. Hopefully I can do him proud.”

Having made no impact at Atlético Madrid since leaving Tottenham in January, after the club spent €35 million on Pedro Porro, Doherty needs 90 minutes against Latvia more than most.

“It’s going well for me in Spain,” said the Swords native. “I’m enjoying my time there, even though I’m not playing that much.

“It was a case of I couldn’t really say no to that type of experience and a manager of his calibre. I always like to challenge myself and be uncomfortable at times and it was a similar case there. I didn’t have long to think about it but the time I did have, I just couldn’t say no to that opportunity.

“It is frustrating at times, but I have learned to deal with it. I am there until the end of the season and I am just using it as a learning experience, I am improving by training with world-class players every day. I am using the six months I have there to try and get better, to try and understand the game better and improve my overall game.”

It sounds like Doherty has accepted his time in La Liga is fleeting, certainly at Atlético, but Diego Simone is not the only manager he showers with praise after Ireland training in Abbotstown.

“He won’t say anything in the press that he won’t say to his players, he’s completely honest with his players, has the passion for the whole club,” said Doherty of Antonio Conte, despite the Italian’s comments about the culture at Spurs being the antithesis of a trophy-gathering enterprise. “For me I hope Tottenham stick by him and hold on to him for as long as possible as he’s one of the best managers of all time.”

And what of Atlético team-mate Antoine Griezmann, another generating headlines now Didier Deschamps has chosen Kylian Mbappé to lead France into the future?

“He’s a big leader at the club. He was obviously there before and came back. He’s got a great relationship with everybody. I think I was only there two weeks and we had a team barbecue at his house and he looked after everybody.

“We know what kind of world-class player he is, he’s been doing it for years and years. For sure he is going to be someone that we’ll have to keep our eye on for 90 minutes.”

Hear about the alleged spat between Griezmann and Deschamps?

Kenny: “No, I haven’t.”

Doherty: “I heard that yeh ...”

“On the captaincy front,” Kenny intervened. “Matt Doherty will captain Ireland tomorrow.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent