With intrigue and excitement abound amongst a large cohort of Irish players heading into the new season, the role of the outfield player furthest up the Premier League food chain provides an equally interesting storyline for Irish watchers-on.
Matt Doherty, of course, is the player in question but his time at Tottenham Hotspur since moving on from Wolverhampton Wanderers has been a story of stop-starts thus far. The arrival of Antonio Conte last November sparked a remarkable turnaround in form after he struggled to find his feet in London early on.
The right wing back role in the famed Conte system suited the Dubliner down to the ground and he made the position his own in the early months of the year, impressing in both an attaching and defensive role and popping up with goals and assists.
Unfortunately, a medial ligament injury sustained in a 4-0 win against Aston Villa was a serious setback for Doherty, pouring ice cold water on his form and putting huge distance between his strong spell in the side and the beginning of this coming season, more than enough time for Conte to filter out a search for his ideal right wing back role player.
With Spurs keen to splash the cash, it certainly wouldn’t have been beyond the realms of possibility that upgrades at the wing back positions would be top of the agenda, such is their importance in the Italian’s tactical setup.
Djed Spence has been targeted as that player, but at just 21-years-old and fresh off a promotion-winning season at Nottingham Forest, it seems unlikely that he’ll be thrust immediately into a starting role at Spurs.
This offers Doherty time to reclaim his role and pay Conte back for the loyalty and patience he has shown the Irishman, who returned back to camp early following his knee injury last April to get ahead in rehab and be sharp for the pre-season and beginning of the new season.
While Troy Parrott gained all the plaudits for leading Spurs’ grueling Korean running sessions, Doherty was equal to him and his approach will surely catch the eye of Conte, who will appreciate his fitness levels and work ethic.
You get a great satisfaction once the session is over. Your mind has been tortured in the middle of it but when it’s done you feel proud and you got to bed at night time thinking ‘yeah, I’ve worked hard today’.
Spurs has been busy in the transfer window, adding Richarlison and Yves Bissouma to an already strong squad that will be keen to kick on following a fantastic start to life under Conte. It’s an exciting time to be a Spurs fan, but perhaps just as much so for a player like Doherty who had been on the periphery.
On the international front, Doherty has been amongst Stephen Kenny’s most trusted performers. He beat Seamus Coleman to the starting role early on in the reign after being overlooked for so long by previous regimes and sealed the position with a string of fine performances. Ultimately, he is Ireland’s best player on his day and if he’s starting for Tottenham in between shifts in the Irish camp, that can only benefit each party.
Still just 30, Doherty has plenty of time to deliver on his talent. It felt like his Irish career stalled for years until Kenny’s arrival and his form at Wolves finally broke the glass ceiling he had been dealing with. Now, under such an accomplished manager in Conte and standards in the national team improving on and off the field, it’s a welcome turnaround for the player.
With Spurs competing on all fronts this season and Doherty set to reclaim his throne at right wing back, we could be in store for an exciting season and a player competing at the very highest level in a role that can translate directly into the Irish system.
If he can pick up his form where he left off back in March, where he had two goals and three assists in the seven games prior to his injury, then Doherty will hopefully lead the march in what should be a productive season for the Irish senior contingent.