Wolves ace Matt Doherty vying with Coleman for Ireland spot
HE IS playing well for a winning club, but Wolves defender Matt Doherty knows that he faces the toughest challenge for any Irish footballer right now - trying to dislodge Seamus Coleman from the right-back slot with the national team.
And while the in-form Doherty jokes that he may have to move to centre half for his international career to take off, the fact that he can laugh about it shows just how far Doherty and his club have come this season.
After last weekend's round of games in the Championship, Wolves were nicely ensconced in the top three, just two points off top spot and their spell in England's third tier, which Doherty calls the "dark days" is a distant memory.
Before last week's 3-3 draw with Reading, Wolves had the best defensive record of any team in England with five clean sheets in eight league games, and ever-present Doherty played no small part.
Form like that could lead to international recognition for the former Bohemians man but he does admit that ousting the £20million-rated Coleman from the No. 2 jersey with Ireland will be tough.
"You couldn't ask for a harder task, trying to get picked ahead of Seamus Coleman," says Doherty, who impressed by scoring four times in his eight appearances for Ireland at U21 level.
"Maybe the solution is to play him on the right side of midfield and I'll go in at right back, we can cover each other. I haven't been hung up on the international scene, I'm not sitting there waiting on the Ireland squad to be announced to see if I am in it.
"I haven't been in the seniors yet so it hasn't been a big deal for me and I can't say that I was devastated to miss out as I still have to earn that right.
"You have to be on top of your game at club level to get into the Irish squad but I am doing that at the moment so you never know," he added.
"And I could even change positions. I played a fair few games in midfield for the Irish U21 and I can see myself moving to centre half later in my career, I like that central position but I am enjoying things now."
Things are going well for Doherty and his club, although an injury picked up in Sunday's draw with Reading will force the Swords lad to miss tonight's league game with Huddersfield and end his run of having played in every minute of every game.
But even that injury can't take the gloss of what has been a fine season who were in turmoil since their relegation from the Premier League in 2012, the first of back-to-back relegations.
"We have earned this the hard way, we had all those tough matches last season - Gillingham away - to earn the right to play Reading live on TV, to be back in the big stadiums again," he says.
"They were dark days and it's almost forgotten about that we were even there. That season in League One went by pretty fast and that's a good thing as we don't want to see those days again. We have started off well and we could even have more points on board."
The current Wolves squad has drastically changed since their demotion from the Premier League as boss Kenny Jackett felt that players from that time, such as Ireland stars Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ward, were carrying "baggage" from the trauma of successive relegations. "Sometimes an experience like that, relegation and relegation again, can help you as it's a test of how you react to it," says Doherty.
"We had more than our share of relegation at this club but I think the feelgood factor is back and we seem to have restored the bond with the fans, they are back on our side now.
"Getting back into the Premier League is a real possibility for us now and if we are to do it, this is the year do to it. The way things are at the club, the way we have carried on from last season, that can spur us on.
"So far this year we have played teams who were in the Premier League last season, we've played solid Championship teams and played them off the park, and the way we've gone about our football has been impressive.
"We don't look like losing games now and we don't look like conceding goals - apart from Reading last week when we let in three."
The once-vibrant Irish presence at the club has, however, been watered down. Wolves used six Irish players in their last season as Premier League club (Doherty, Kevin Doyle, Kevin Foley, Stephen Ward, Stephen Hunt and Anthony Forde) but of that group only Doherty remains in the team, though youngsters Aaron McCarey and Liam McAlinden are close
"This is probably my best run of form since I came to England.
"I feel great going into every match, this could be a great season for us. We're a solid team and good things are still to come from us."