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Matt Doherty: I’m Totally Comfortable Playing At Left-Back

Matt Doherty has no concerns about playing at left-back for the Republic of Ireland.

Mick McCarthy’s side are without their regular left-back Enda Stevens for Saturday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Georgia. The Sheffield United full-back is suspended for the match, which means Doherty may get another chance to start for Ireland.

If the call comes, Doherty says he will be ready as he has played in the position in the past for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“I’m totally comfortable playing in that position,” Doherty told reporters in Abbotstown on Wednesday morning.

“I played two seasons there for Wolves – one and a half seasons, maybe, it was – so it would be nothing new to me. I know that I’ll be able to adapt to it and if that’s the case, then it shouldn’t really be a problem and I should be able to play just almost as well as I can on the other side.”

Doherty last featured at left-back for Wolves three years ago, when he was voted the club’s player of the year. He admitted that, while he is confident he can make an impact playing in the position for Ireland, it does take some time to adapt. However, Doherty stated that playing on the left may suit him, as it will enable him to cut inside on his stronger right foot.

“Positionally, if I’m on the right-hand side you automatically know where you’re meant to be – if you’re meant to be a little bit higher or deeper,” he said.

“Going to the left everything feels a little bit off. You might be a little too high at times, or a little too close to the centre-back at times. Going forward there is no real issue, it’s more defensively. Positionally, it might take a couple of minutes to get used to, but that’s it.

“You can cut in, you can do many things. You can play long-field passes, shoot, play one-twos and they always think you’re going to go inside, which allows you to go down the line too. I enjoy going forward from the left, it opens the game up.”

Nuno Espirito Santo, when he became Wolves manager in 2017, switched the Dubliner to right wing-back, and it has resulted in the best form of Doherty’s career. He scored eight goals and registered 10 assists from the position last season.

However, the 27-year-old has found chances at international level hard to come by. Doherty, who has earned only seven caps so far, started McCarthy’s first match as manager on the right-side of midfield against Gibraltar in March. He has yet to start another game for Ireland and it looks like he will never be used in that position again for the national team.

“That’s not been spoken about again,” he said.

“After that game, we had a little discussion, it didn’t really work. So, we’ve not spoken about playing there again, I don’t think that’s on the table.”

McCarthy, who signed Doherty for Wolves from Bohemians in 2010, suggested earlier in the week that he may give him the nod at left-back against Georgia on Saturday. The Dubliner has no grievances about being left out and has been prepared to bide his time.

“I don’t think anybody should be guaranteed to start. You have to obviously play well at club level, you have to come in, you have to train well and it’s international football, so it’s going to be difficult to get a spot in the team.

“Obviously everybody wants to play, but you have got to respect the manager and whatever decision he makes.”

Doherty picked up an injury during the first week of pre-season but has returned to fitness and form recently for Wolves, scoring in their win over Watford recently.

“My injury is only kind of just clearing up now. So, I’ve been playing for a while not at 100 per cent, probably at 60, 70 per cent. Which, in the position I play, I kind of need to be playing at 100 per cent. So, form-wise, it’s kind of been slow progress.

“The last couple of weeks, when we’ve played Watford and played Besiktas away, is kind of where I’ve started to really feel good again with my knee and I’m almost at 100 per cent, so there’ll be no excuses in terms of my fitness or anything like that. I’m starting to feel really good again.”

Ahead of Saturday’s game, Ireland are two points clear at the top of Group D after five games played with 11 points. Denmark are in second place with nine points from five matches and Switzerland are in third, with eight points from four games.

Georgia are second from bottom in the group, with four points from five games. McCarthy’s side beat them 1-0 back in March, but Georgia held Denmark to a draw in Tbilisi last month.

Ireland will need their best players on the pitch against the Georgians, so Doherty’s inclusion, even out of position, can only be considered a good thing.

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