Doherty: Irish confidence will be ‘sky-high’ for Azerbaijan clash

Player’s classy display on left shows both him and Coleman can be accommodated in squad

Matt Doherty in action against Portugal: the defender was moved to left wing-back and excelled in that position. Photograph: Antonio Cotrim/EPA

Matt Doherty would have noticed Emerson Royal's unwanted move from Barcelona to Spurs for €25 million on transfer deadline day. The Brazilian right-back has made a public fuss about not wanting to leave Camp Nou but the hefty wage bill that sent Messi to Paris still needed cutting.

So now he is Doherty's problem. Unless the 29-year-old Dubliner's inspirational switch from right to left wing-back, to ruin the perceived notion, planted by Mick McCarthy, that Ireland's Premier League fullbacks cannot be accommodated in the same Ireland team, can be replicated at club level.

As much as Séamus Coleman was heroic against Portugal, Doherty was so classy down the left at Estádio Algarve that Nuno Espirito Santo might consider a permanent switch on his return to north London.

Or not. A more likely reality is Nuno will persevere with Spanish international Sergio Reguilón at left full or Welsh veteran Ben Davies.


The problem with being an Irishman in the top tier of English football nowadays is there will always be a Brazilian or Spaniard poised to snatch your dream gig.

Not that Doherty seems remotely put out by Royal’s regal gait. Not after he used the Portugal game on Wednesday night to enhance a reputation that had been clouded by Spurs curtailing his minutes to the Europa Conference League.


"I don't mind playing on the left again," he said on Friday morning. "I played there against England at Wembley last year. I find it kind of opens up the game for you if you can go either way and I felt really comfortable out there."

That Doherty played a blinder, despite constant threats from Portuguese fire flies Rafa Silva and Diogo Jota, goes up a notch after it became apparent that he was sick as a parrot. Not Covid sick, relax, but stomach cramp sick.

“Second half, I don’t know what hit me,” he revealed. “My body shut down and pains in my stomach so I didn’t feel great and every time I went down it wasn’t through injury, I was just really struggling but I managed to crawl my way through the second half and I feel a bit better now.

“It was extremely tough. There was a period in the second half where I was really struggling but I just couldn’t bring myself to come off so I just decided to stay on. Whether that was for my own good or not, I don’t know but I managed to get through it and see out the 90.”

If Ireland had held on for a historic victory on the Algarve the Doherty shift would have taken on iconic status.

“It is difficult and it does hurt,” he said of the squad’s effort to recover from Cristiano Ronaldo’s sucker punches. “When you are sitting in your room at night you do think about it and we had five minutes to hold out. I guess the worst thing is that we actually lost. It’s okay for them to score but you still think that, ‘okay, we drew, that’s fine, they scored at the end’. But to concede twice does hurt a lot.”

Not that it will be difficult to go again in front of a half full Aviva Stadium, presuming the FAI can sell 25,000 before the 5pm kick-off.

Five-man attack

“For me on a personal level, I really, really needed the crowd back. My game changes a little bit when the fans are there. I feel like I’m able to go to a different level of performance and I’m sure that’s the same for almost everyone really. It will make a big difference. I know it’s not a full stadium but however many are there, it will make a positive difference for us.

“Even though we lost the game we should be going in with confidence. Everyone played a really good game, everyone’s confidence should be sky-high. Obviously we would feel extremely good if we had held out, but that’s not the case and it’s gone now. Everyone’s confidence will be really high and I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a similar performance with a bit more possession on Saturday.”

Which would mean the sight of Doherty and Coleman raiding forward, as part of a five-man attack and holding the fort in a five-man defence, as Ireland, after all these years, find spots for them both.

Makes you wonder how it took so long.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent