Matt Doherty in a happier place ahead of Republic’s new campaign
Wolves star relishing the chance to work again with his former club boss McCarthy
Matt Doherty and Jack Byrne taking part in Republic of Ireland squad training at the FAI National Training Centre, Dublin. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Matt Doherty doesn’t confirm the terminology used by Martin O’Neill when the ex-manager called to confront him about the radio interview the player had done in the days that followed Ireland’s final game of 2018.
But the look he flashes the FAI press officer leaves little doubt about the nature of the exchange.
“What did I even say?” he asks.
“You said too much,” says the politely smiling staffer with the air of a man who fears the same might well be about to happen again.
Dubliner Doherty has acquired a reputation for straight talking but, asked where he gets it from, all he can do is embark upon a process of elimination.
“It’s not a family thing as my Dad tells me to be careful all the time. ‘Watch what you say, watch what you say’ but . . . what have I said wrong?” he asks with a genuine sense of puzzlement.
“I just don’t know if I can stop myself from saying it,” he continues.
“In my head, I am thinking: ‘Don’t say it,’ but it just comes out anyway. But that’s why I’m here. I’m here to answer questions that you ask me. If you ask me a question . . .I’m not a liar so I’m not going to try and get out of the question. Just answer it. The answers I give, they shouldn’t cause too much trouble unless people take them the wrong way.”
It’s not entirely clear that O’Neill took the wrong way what Doherty said on Newstalk in the immediate aftermath of his sacking last November. To judge by what the player says four months on, he probably grasped the intention behind the words well enough and that was the problem.
To put it simply, the two men didn’t get on.
O’Neill’s slightly bewildering initial insistence that Doherty didn’t get forward enough for his liking, certainly raised questions about his judgement with regard to the now 27-year-old who he completely overlooked until last year.
Doherty’s inclination to repeat the charge that seemed to rile the manager more than any other: that his players didn’t understand what was expected of them, though, strongly suggested there was a pair of them in it.
“I don’t regret what I said,” he says of the interview.
“The only thing I might regret is the timing of it. It was a bit soon. I’ve gone onto that radio station before but I had cancelled on them a few weeks earlier so when they asked this time around I thought ‘oh, I don’t want to cancel on them again’ so I went on it. The timing was probably not the best, that’s the one thing I regret . . the timing.”
A few months on, in any case, and with the manager who signed him for Wolves from Bohemians almost a decade ago, now in charge, he is a happier man. They all are, he says.
“The atmosphere is definitely different,” he says, “not just around the players but around the whole place. Everyone seems to be just a bit happier, enjoying it more; training is a bit more fun.
“He [Mick McCarthy] says what he wants so you’re not in limbo,” he remarks, returning to his earlier theme. “You know what you’re doing, what you’re going to get and he is obviously a very good man-manager. I’m sure the lads will take to him. They have already.”
Doherty starts the new qualification campaign off the back of a Premier League season at Wolves so spectacular that not starting him now is simply unthinkable.
“I’m not keeping track,” he says when asked about his stats these past six months or so, “but I’ve got six goals and seven assists! Of course you keep track of it,” he continues above the laughter. If anyone says they don’t, they’re lying!”
If he played in any other position then it would be his but right back for Ireland is sort of spoken for and so, it seems, he might well find himself playing in front of Seamus Coleman on Saturday evening. He might well be entitled to feel he should have first call but if he does feel aggrieved he is diplomatic about it all.
“My view would be that I’d be really comfortable and fine with that,” he says.
“I don’t play right wing now but I am up and down the right wing a lot at club football. I know it would be a lot different but when I was younger I played there so I don’t think I’d be uncomfortable playing there. It would be different and it would still take a bit of getting used to, in the defensive phase. But no, I’d be totally happy to play there.
“I think we’re pretty similar,” he continues when asked about the potential to forge an onfield relationship with the Irish captain.
“Our games involve little one-twos, clever play, not always just running past people down the line. That’s not always the case. We see each other as a bit smarter, that’s how we like to play the game. If that’s the case then it should work on Saturday.”
The greater tests will follow but if the pair show early signs of a rapport then it will be one major box ticked for the new management team. After demonstrating just what it is he can do in the Premier league this season, Doherty, at least, has no doubts now about the level of expectation.