Kevin Doherty’s voice is drowned out as another low-flying Ryanair jet buzzes by overhead. The Shelbourne manager is putting his squad through their paces at the Athletic Union League training complex in North County Dublin.
He is easy to spot in a bright red hat, adorned with the club crest, worn to fend off the April evening chill and is animated as he dishes out instructions to his young troops.
After training, Doherty makes sure to wish his players all the best on their way home.
We’re a young side, a lot of the boys are college students. We usually train three or four nights a week with a match on Friday and maybe some training on the weekend.
Watching Doherty at work, it is easy to see his passion shine through. Having spent almost six years at the club as a player over two spells, he was appointed manager in December 2014.
The opportunity to manage a club so close to his heart is something he relishes but the role is not without its challenges, as he explains:
It’s tough… I’ll use last Saturday as an example. We went down to play Limerick and down there you see everything they have and that’s what I would like.
The budget that they have, that’s what I would like. But we are what we are and I still think the players that we have are capable of competing at this level. I think we’re stronger than last year.
That level is the First Division, a league The Reds have occupied since their last relegation in 2013.
This season they have accrued four points from the opening four games and lie fifth in the table, a position which Doherty feels doesn’t merits their overall performances.
I know our results have been sort of mixed but our performances have generally been good. In the opening game against Cobh Ramblers, the amount of chances we missed in that was frightening. Three or four one-on-ones. Missing those chances changes games.
Shelbourne’s current position is in stark contrast to where they were for the majority of Doherty’s playing days at the club. As a defender, he played a pivotal role in delivering three Premier Division titles in the mid 2000s.
For many reflecting on the era, the Champions League encounters with Spanish giants Deportivo La Coruna will stand out.
One step away from the group stage of the competition which was, and remains, elusive for Irish clubs, a battling Shels side held their more illustrious opponents to a 0-0 draw at Lansdowne Road in front of 24,000 people before going down 3-0 in the away leg thanks to three second-half goals.
While acknowledging it was a great era in the club’s history, Doherty looks back on the time with mixed emotions.
I was on the bench for the Deportivo games. I had a calf injury. I would have been in the team most weeks but I was injured for most of the European run. It was horrible. I started the season in the team and finished the season in the team.
We won the league that year which was a good thing but I wasn’t fit for the European run so Pat Fenlon, the manager back then, couldn’t put me on.
Despite his personal grief at not getting on the pitch on those famous nights, the 35-year-old Doherty has fond memories of being at a club that was going toe-to-toe with Europe’s best.
The previous season, Deportivo had been Champions League semi-finalists so to come so close to sending them tumbling out of the competition reflects how strong a side Shelbourne had at the time. He went on:
It was amazing. It was one of the greatest times in the club’s history but it was one of the hardest times for me.
When I wasn’t on the pitch, it was tough. But look, you look back on those days and they were special times. It was more the other stuff around it.
The ‘other stuff’ he refers to is domestic dominance for Shelbourne in the middle part of the decade which, in contrast to their European escapades, was something that Doherty feels he played a big role in. He smiles as he recalls:
We won the league three out of the four years I was there so that’s the stuff I would look back on. Funnily enough, my daughter… she’s only four and she was looking at my medals last night.
We moved house last year and she just found them in a box. Three Premier Division winner’s medals. They’re the times I look back on with more fondness because I played in most games rather than the European run.
Coping with injuries wasn’t new to Doherty. Early in his career he was spotted by then-Liverpool manager Roy Evans who signed him up for the youth team.
Roy Evans was in charge when I signed but it was only two months until Gérard Houllier joined as joint manager. That didn’t last long as Evans left soon after and Houllier took charge on his own.
As Doherty speaks about his injury problems on Merseyside, it is clear that it was a traumatic time for him.
Breaking his leg while on international duty with the Republic of Ireland under-18s, it was a massive turning point in a career which had started with huge potential.
I was doing really well in the first year. I was playing with the reserves regularly and training with the first team. The season finished in May and I would have been graduating to the first-team squad in July. Ireland were in the Under-18 European Championships in Sweden that summer.
We played in a warm-up tournament and I broke my leg. It was my femur. Not the tibia or fibula. It was something that normally only happens in car crashes. It knocked me back. I recovered and got back into the first-team squad but I was never the same. I was out for the guts of two years.
Displaying the positive outlook that is evident throughout the interview, Doherty is glad he was able to experience playing at such a big club in an era where they had a strong squad and acquired quite a collection of silverware. He goes on:
Look, it was brilliant, you look back on it and you take all that for granted. The pitches over there and the players around you. Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp, Michael Owen. And they were all great. There was no-one who I would have thought ‘he’s a bit of a so-and-so’.
Danny Murphy, Gary McAllister. Steven Gerrard would have been my age. My last year was the year they won the treble of F.A. Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup so it was a great group.
It could have been a lot different for Doherty had injuries not taken their toll. A popular presence on the training ground, he will certainly be able to empathise with any youngster who suffers a career setback.
Right now, he is happy where he is as he juggles a young family with his managerial role at Shels along with a full-time job.
I’m a postman. I’m up for work at 5 o’clock in the morning. We’re in Athlone on Monday and Waterford on Friday. I could be up at 5 in the morning and after the Athlone game I could be home at 11 or 12 o’clock. It’s the nature of the league.
Before that, Shelbourne play host to UCD at Tolka Park where they hope to attract a big crowd.
Having been involved in so many matches at the ground throughout his career, it is a place where Doherty feels at home and the efforts of matchday volunteers haven’t gone unnoticed as he sings their praises:
The volunteers all around the League of Ireland are massively important. At Shels, the amount of work they do from the pitch to the stewards to the bar staff is phenomenal. I think it’s just the love of the club. A love of the club and a love of the game. Without the volunteers, the whole league would be gone.
I can only speak for Shels and I know how many people are working there every matchday. The revenue we get, as little as our players get paid, it’s so we can cover their petrol, for example.
That’s basically what we do. If it wasn’t for lads selling tickets for example, and making the programmes and people you never even see and people that go off and do things for the club that no one hears about.
It’s all done on a voluntary basis. There’s no one paid apart from the coaches and playing staff. I’m at Shelbourne maybe 12 or 13 seasons overall in different roles and I do bump into the volunteers. You’d like young people to come on board. Hopefully we get more and help the club move forward.
While Doherty is keen to get more of the local community involved in the club, he is hoping he’s around to work alongside them as he jokes:
There are so many managerial changes in this country, I’m probably one of the most experienced at this stage!
It doesn’t appear that Shelbourne will be cutting ties with Doherty any time soon. As The Reds attempt once more to return to the Premier Division on limited resources, retaining the affable manager means that the club hold a strong link to the glory days of a decade ago.
An influential presence on the training ground for the club’s young stars, Doherty will be back at the AUL week after week with the aim of moulding his team into a side capable of challenging for promotion.
With so many memories and experiences to call on, the club couldn’t be in better hands.