Matt Doherty may be McCarthy’s right-side man for Ireland
Wolves player is set to start against Gibraltar while Rovers' Jack Byrne has impressed
Matt Doherty in action during the Republic of Ireland training session in Abbotstown. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Matt Doherty looks set to get an opportunity to nail down a regular starting spot with Ireland over the coming week, with Mick McCarthy strongly hinting on Monday in Abbotstown that the 27-year-old will play on the right side of his midfield against Gibraltar this weekend.
Accommodating Doherty has been an issue for some time because his preferred position, right back, is occupied by team captain Séamus Coleman. Coleman has also generally been Ireland’s best player in recent times, certainly in terms of the consistently strong performances he delivered on the international stage, until he suffered a broken leg in the World Cup qualifier against Wales two years ago this month.
While Coleman was out injured, Martin O’Neill routinely preferred Cyrus Christie to the Wolves’ wing-back, and it was only last year that Doherty finally forced his way into the starting 11. His club form this season, though, has made his case for a regular place in the team simply unanswerable.
Left-back is also an option for the Dubliner, but he has thrived against some very good Premier League sides pushing forward down the right flank for Wolves this year. With Enda Stevens doing well at Sheffield United, McCarthy seems to see the more advanced role as the most obvious way of accommodating both him and Coleman in the same side.
“Matt Doherty could play there,” he said when asked about the position and the players who might fill it in training on Monday. “He could. Robbie Brady could play there but he’s not been playing many minutes, only played 12 minutes at the weekend, and the week before it was a similar amount. But yeah, the Doc comes into consideration, I think, for that position.”
McCarthy’s team selection is bound to be something of an ongoing process after the loss of Alan Browne and Callum O’Dowda, both of whom would have been firmly in contention to feature, and though Jack Byrne has come from nowhere to make the final squad, the manager admits to having liked what he has seen over the past few days; liked it a lot.
I could have gone the same old, same old, I could have gone back to someone who’s been in the squad and brought him in
“Normally, when someone comes in when there’s been a 30-odd man squad but he’s not been in it, you’d think he’s somewhat down the pecking order. But just looking at him today, technically he’s very good. I had a chat with him and he’s buzzing, he loves being in. And he doesn’t look out of place so we’ll see in training. I’m not discounting him.
“I could have gone the same old, same old, I could have gone back to someone who’s been in the squad and brought him in. But I wanted to have a look at him. I thought he was excellent [on Friday night for Shamrock Rovers] and he deserves to be here, he looks a good player.
“I think he started on the right [against Sligo Rovers] but was never there; he flits around, gets on the ball . . . he’s one of them that likes the ball all the time. His passing range was great. Robbie [Keane] had said that before and I knew it because he’s been about a bit. Why he’s not settled at any club before is beyond me. He’s very, very talented and he looks like he’s got the bit between his teeth, I think.”
Getting in against Gibraltar would be yet another remarkable twist in the already eventful story of Doherty’s still-short career, but the goal he scored on Friday – along with the two he helped to set up for others – will certainly have helped his case.
McCarthy will not want to be seen to be tempting fate but his involvement at some stage would, on the face of it, be less of a risk against Gibraltar, and the manager admits that he is less well fixed in the goalscoring department than he had hoped to be.
I’m not getting wrapped up in getting a glut of goals because they will make it very, very difficult
“I was talking [last week] about all the positivity, about Callum O’Dowda who was scoring, how Ronan Curtis had got eight and Alan Browne had 12, and now none of them are fit,” he said with a a slightly ironic laugh. “But Didsy [David McGoldrick] has been scoring, Sean [Maguire, who sat out training on Monday but should be involved from Tuesday] has been scoring.
“I’m not getting wrapped up in getting a glut of goals because they will make it very, very difficult. We just have to go and win that game. It would be really nice if we did [score a few] but if we come away with three points I’ll be very happy.”
Asked if he is concerned by the widespread expectation that he can spark an immediate improvement after what was a truly dismal 2018, McCarthy flashes his most McCarthyesque of grins.
“I’ve never been in a job where I’ve thought, ‘this is easy, it’s a piece of cake, this,’” he said. “Like the Millwall fans weren’t bothered if they win or lose or the Sunderland fans or Wolves . . . Everybody wants success and I’d like to deliver a bit of it.”