MATT DOHERTY’S journey to the English Premiership isn’t out of a textbook. Usually, players earn a move to one of the best leagues in the world by playing a number of first-team matches and building up a reputation with seasons of good performances. Hibs’ deadline-day loanee only needed two games, let alone two campaigns.
Defender Doherty, snapped up by Hibs boss Pat Fenlon right on the transfer deadline on Tuesday on loan from Wolves, has been described as a quick player, and his move to Molineux certainly portrays a rapid rise. He only required a couple of pre-season matches for Bohemians, against Wolves and Aston Villa, to suitably impress and earn a move to England.
As nothing more than a promising 18-year-old untried at first-team level back in July 2010, Doherty was picked by then-Bohs boss Fenlon to feature in successive senior friendlies against the two English Midlands clubs. His display against Wolves at Dublin’s Dalymount Park drew praise and admiring glances from the watching scouts, and his follow-up performance against Villa was sufficient to seal a two-year contract with Mick McCarthy’s side. Since then, he has made a handful of starts in cup competitions, and made his Premier League debut at Anfield in September last year after emerging as a half-time substitute alongside ex-Hibs striker Steven Fletcher, who went on to score in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to Liverpool.
The SPL now hands him the opportunity to become reunited with Hibs boss Fenlon and gain some valuable first-team experience, and Doherty will no doubt be hoping to have just as quick an impact at Easter Road as he did on the Premiership scouts.
“I’m excited about playing for Hibs and working with Pat again,” said Doherty, who was acquired just hours before the transfer window closed on Tuesday night. “He has given me a chance to get some game-time and I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, playing first-team football week in, week out will benefit me in many ways.
“My aim is to do as well as I can for Hibs and then go back and challenge for a first-team place at Wolves next season.”
He is on course to do just that, according to his former coach at Bohemians, Eddie Wallace. The 60-year-old trainer, who ran the under-19 team for two years while Pat Fenlon was manager, believes Doherty has the belief and ability to succeed in the game.
“He’s a defender, deceptively quick, and he gets forward all right” said Wallace. “He has plenty of confidence in his own ability. He knows what he wants, and that’s to be a football player. He’ll do everything he can to get there.
“He’s a quiet lad and, from a football point of view, is well-respected by the players he played with.”
Doherty’s natural talent had attracted interest prior to his move over the Irish Sea. He had made similar journeys before as a young player at Dublin youth clubs Home Farm and Belvedere, going on trial at a host of English sides. After leaving school, he had earned a living by working for his father’s carpet and upholstery cleaning business in Dublin before his football ability was fully recognised.
“He was at Bohemians for two seasons and progressed very well,” recalled Wallace, “He is good on the ball, and a good passer and header of the ball. Generally, he’s a good all-round player for a young lad. His position is debatable, but for me, he’s a right-back. He’s played in the Premier Reserve League as a centre back, but I think needs to build up his strength a bit.
“I know the SPL quite well and I think he’ll adapt very well. It’s a great opportunity for him to develop his game. He’ll be happy to link up with Pat again. Pat knows Matt very well and knows he’s not taking a chance.”
Doherty has much to play for in the coming months. His two-year deal at parent club Wolves expires this summer, and Wolves boss Mick McCarthy will decide whether or not to trigger the option of a one-year extension to the player’s contract based on how he progresses at Hibs.
Another player seeking success at Hibs in order to further his career at an English club is Coventry City’s Roy O’Donovan, whose contract at the Ricoh Arena ends in summer 2013.
O’Donovan – signed by Fenlon on a six-month loan deal – is perhaps best known as a signing for Sunderland in 2007, when fellow Corkman Roy Keane snapped him up from his hometown senior club, Cork City. O’Donovan failed to make an impact at the Stadium of Light and was dispatched for a series of loan spells, firstly at Dundee United.
Former Tannadice team-mate Lee Wilkie recalls O’Donovan as a bustling in-your-face striker whose talent was nullified somewhat due to the temporary nature of his time on Tayside.
“He was a really fast, strong player,” says Wilkie, the former Scotland centre back who was forced to retire through injury two years ago. “His loan move never quite lived up to his ability. I can sympathise with him, because going on loan to teams is tough and it’s always difficult to show how good you are. Hopefully a few months at Hibs will be enough time for him to settle. He’s definitely got potential and ability, cause problems with his pace and strength.
Wilkie, 31, believes arriving on loan at a club where a fear of relegation exists will not be easy for loan signings such as O’Donovan, but adds that the 26-year-old forward’s gritty determination can help Hibs through the difficult spell that are enduring at present.
“He can play off the shoulder of the defender and cause problems, but in one-on-one battles he can do well, too. I would imagine with the way Hibs are playing now, it’ll turn into grinding out results and battling. He’s a physically strong player and will cause sides problems.
“It’s not ideal for any player to come into the situation Hibs are in, but the management realise that and that’s why they’re bringing in boys like Roy. They’re looking to loan signings for some reaction towards the end of the season. Roy’s the type of player who can make an instant impression.”