Hibs’ final January arrival Matt Doherty today revealed it was boss Pat Fenlon’s power of persuasion which resulted in a reunion with his former Bohemians manager.
Unknown to all but the interested parties, Fenlon’s pursuit of the young defender whom he’d nurtured in his early career in Dublin had taken place over the course of a few weeks, his patience paying off when Wolves boss Mick McCarthy finally sanctioned Doherty’s departure on loan until the end of the season. The go-ahead was only given hours before the transfer window closed, the 20-year-old becoming the final piece of Fenlon’s mid-season revolution following the earlier arrivals of Eoin Doyle, George Francomb, James McPake, Tom Soares, Jorge Claros and Roy O’Donovan.
And today Doherty revealed the chance to work with Fenlon again helped sway him in favour of coming to Edinburgh. He said: “Although I didn’t speak to him myself I knew he’d been on to Mick McCarthy and my agent all the time from the start of the month. I think going on loan in England was the preferred choice because down there you can get called back if you are needed and Wolves didn’t let me go until the last minute. I obviously know the manager, he had a good influence on me and, to be honest, I don’t know if I’d have come up here had it not been for him. It’s good to know you are wanted.
“I’d spoken to both Steven Fletcher and Christophe Berra at Wolves and they both told me Edinburgh was a great place. Fletch is, of course, something of a hero here so I listened to what he had to say although it didn’t sway me as I knew what I was going to do.”
Strangely enough, Doherty didn’t play a competitive match under Fenlon at Bohemians having spent 18 months with the club, largely playing reserve team football. But his world was turned up-side-down in the summer of 2010 when he played in a friendly against Wolves at Dalymount Park. With the League of Ireland season in full swing, Bohs had played a Cup replay the previous night, resulting in Fenlon fielding a side comprising of reserve team players and those who had been on the bench 24 hours earlier.
Doherty not only starred that night but in a subsequent friendly against Aston Villa, impressing sufficiently to be invited to England for a trial with Wolves, an offer which resulted in a two-year contract which has already been extended to the summer of 2014.
Although the reported fee was £75,000, split between Bohs and his previous clubs Home Farm and Belvedere, Fenlon insisted that, while the money was much needed at his club, he wasn’t going to deny a youngster who was combining his football with working for his father’s carpet and upholstery cleaning business such an opportunity.
The Hibs boss said at the time: “It’s a great opportunity for Matt. Sometimes it’s not just about making money, and I know we need the money, but we are not standing in his way.”
Doherty made his Wolves debut a year ago, playing in an FA Cup draw with Doncaster and although his appearances this season have been confined to the FA Cup and Carling Cup, he made his first appearance in the English Premier League away to Liverpool.
In fact, his last game before swapping the gold jersey of Wolves for the green and white of Hibs came only a fortnight before his switch to Edinburgh, Wolves going down 1-0 to Midlands rivals Birmingham City in the FA Cup.
Doherty, of course, enjoyed much better luck in his first Hibs outing, playing a starring role as Fenlon’s side squeezed past Kilmarnock and into the last eight of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
A goal from countryman Eoin Doyle was enough to separate the sides, but a sterling rearguard action ensured no Killie equaliser, Doherty and his fellow defenders enjoying the bonus of a clean sheet, an achievement which has been something of a rarity for Hibs this season.
And in a nerve-shredding final few minutes, Doherty played his part, throwing himself in front of a David Silva effort when the Rugby Park star looked certain to score.
He was, though, more than a tad modest, claiming: “I think anyone would have blocked it, it just so happened to be me.
“I know results haven’t been too good for Hibs this season, so to get off to a winning start with a clean sheet made it the perfect day. Yes, it was a bit fraught at the end, but that’s to be expected when you are winning 1-0 and the opposition are attacking trying to equalise.
“There was a bit of relief hearing the final whistle. I saw the board go up to let everyone know there would be four more minutes but I kind of knew there would be that extra time. It was just a matter of gritting the teeth and riding it out.
“It was our first game together but I thought we defended exceptionally well. I think I can offer more going forward but defensively the most important thing is not to concede.
“I was hearing in the dressing room afterwards there haven’t been too many clean sheets this season, so we were obviously delighted to have that as well as the win.”
Despite the importance of the occasion, Doherty insisted he had no worries about being pitched into such a match. He said: “I’d looked at the fixture, saw it was a Cup game and thought it would be good to play in.
“I played almost the entire 90 minutes against Birmingham two weeks ago and had reserve matches recently so I had no qualms about the game.”
Nor does Doherty have any fears about the battles which lie ahead as Fenlon bids to lift Hibs clear of any relegation fears. Pointing out his parent club Wolves are in a similarly perilous situation, he said: “I want to try to help Hibs up the league. I know they are one of the bigger clubs in Scotland, the name, the stadium.”