Matt Doherty had cricket on the brain yesterday. It’s never far from his thoughts, as it happens.
The Republic of Ireland international wasn’t letting his smartphone out of his sight as he kept constant tabs on the updates from Trent Bridge during England’s World Cup meeting with Pakistan.
Speaking to broadcast journalists in the main press conference room at Aviva Stadium as the build-up to Friday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Denmark intensifies, Doherty had his head buried in the screen until the arrival of Shane Duffy to field questions alongside him.
After 15 minutes or so there, Doherty whipped the phone straight back up and furiously began refreshing for updates, before dealing with members of the written press.
“I could have sat and watched every ball, but I’m here instead,” he lamented, just before one final update. “I was just checking to see if England were losing.”
Doherty grew up in Swords, north Dublin, and played cricket on the road outside his home.
“I don’t know why. I think just watching the World Cup as a kid,” he reasoned.
Such distractions are no bad thing considering Doherty, like the majority of the squad, met up two weeks ago in preparation for this latest Euro double-header.
Six points from six in March got Mick McCarthy’s second coming as manager off to the best possible start, but the wins over Gibraltar and Georgia were not secured without issue.
Primarily, the decision to play Wolves’ star full-back as a winger with captain Seamus Coleman in behind was deemed to be a failed experiment by McCarthy.
Doherty was whipped off early in the second half against Gibraltar and he had to make do with a place on the bench for the victory over the Georgians a couple of days later in Dublin.
McCarthy has insisted that the side to face Denmark on Friday — a fifth meeting since November 2017 — will be similar to the one which began in the Aviva that night.
He has also stressed that the Coleman-Doherty axis is not one that he will be quick to return to.
“I didn’t know he said that until you just told me,’ the former Bohemians defender admitted.
“I know Seamus obviously plays to a high level. I play to a high level as well. It’s just one or the other.
“He’s just got to pick one and, like I said, there’s no hard feelings at all.
“Whoever plays, we’ll support each other, they’ll have that backing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who plays once we win the game, that’s the most important thing.
“I’ll keep training, I’ll keep playing as well as I can and we’re probably spurring each other on, really.
“I’m trying to get ahead of him, he’s trying to get ahead of me. It’s a good thing that it’s making us both want to improve and get better.
“I’ve never come here with a guarantee to play so nothing has really changed.
“If I do play, I’ll try and do the best I can, and if I don’t play, I’ll support Seamus. Whoever plays will have the backing of the other.”
Doherty has not been shy about speaking his mind when unhappy before — just ask Martin O’Neill — and he is not the type to go with the flow so as to avoid rocking the boat.
“I’m not a liar. If you ask me a question, you’ll get an answer,” he said during the last international meet-up.
So his words can be taken at face value. Indeed, Coleman is one of the people Doherty is closest to in the Ireland squad.
Along with Duffy, the three can often be found in conversation discussing the game at great length, but that night in Gibraltar, when McCarthy appears to have made up his mind about playing both him and Coleman, may just have been a one-off, Doherty says.
“I might look back and think: ‘Was I really that bad?’ I don’t think it was that bad, I don’t look back on it with that many good memories… but what worked that day?
“I don’t know how we persuade him (McCarthy),” Doherty continued.
“The more you do it, the more you become accustomed to each other’s way of playing. That was first time we ever played.
“We believe we can work together down that side. At the end of the day, I understand he is going to pick one of us at right-back.”
It is an unfortunate scenario for McCarthy and Ireland that two of the best players playing regularly at Premier League level favour the same position, but that has not been the dominant conversation over the last fortnight.
While Doherty admitted that the recent training game with the U-21s was needed “just to wake the legs up” and has been the catalyst for improved training since, discussion amongst the players about what it would mean to play in Dublin at Euro 2020 has helped maintain morale at the end of a gruelling season.
“If you don’t want to be there you might as well leave now because it would be crazy to not want to play in a Euro Championship.”
Cricket will most certainly be off the agenda then.
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