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The Iron Man: Wolves flying machine Matt Doherty emerges from bunker to target Europa League glory

For most, the football season has finished at last — but not for all.

Wolves, for example, are preparing for a summer assault on the Europa League and for their flying right wing back Matt Doherty, the sporting omens are good.

Given a couple of days off by manager Nuno Espirito Santo last week, Doherty headed for the golf course.

‘I played at the Grove and shot (three-over-par) 75,’ he said. ‘That’s my best ever. I play off eight and just played really well. I actually had a couple of three putts and bogeyed the last. Golf is the thing that excites me outside of football.’

If Doherty’s hobby is impressive, so has been his day job. The Dubliner has been at Wolves for 10 years. He has played as low as League One and been on loan at Hibs and at Bury. 

More than 15 English clubs rejected him as a triallist before Mick McCarthy signed him on the back of a pre-season friendly performance for Bohemians in 2010.

And now this. Wolves have just finished seventh in the Premier League and Doherty, 28, says he is ‘disappointed’ it wasn’t higher. 

But a win or scoreless draw at home to Olympiacos on Thursday and Wolves will be through to next week’s Europa League last eight in Germany.

Asked if he would have believed it when he was working for his dad Tom’s upholstery company just over a decade ago, Doherty told Sportsmail: ‘I wouldn’t have believed it if you said I would shoot 75 at the Grove! But I did have hopes for my football and my dad always believed.

‘Working with my dad gave me maturity. We would talk in the van between jobs. I am naturally confident and hoped it would happen eventually but my dad really believed it would. But yeah, all the trials were hard.

‘I would fly over and spend the week. I left school because I was never there. But I never played that well on trials so I wasn’t surprised I failed them all.

‘It’s tough. You live with a family for a week. You go to train, don’t know whether to sit with anyone at breakfast. You don’t know where anything is. Some of the others may be a bit big time, but you are not so you just sit there. They are tough environments. It just never worked out.’

Doherty’s progress has been one of the stand-out stories of Wolves’ progression under their Portuguese coach. 

On their first meeting, Nuno told him to lose weight, so he did. The best part of a stone. He is a flying machine now, part of a side capable of beating the best.

‘You leave a meeting with Nuno almost feeling like you can’t lose,’ he said on Tuesday via Zoom. ‘You are totally convinced by what he tells you.

‘Our results against the top six are good. We beat Man City twice last season. Maybe it’s the way big teams set up. They take risks and we are a very good counter-attacking team. We can just sit back and then once we win the ball we can go.

‘We were in the hunt for top four before the lockdown and then won our first three games back. So to not even make the top six was tough to take. We let an opportunity slip.

‘But the prize for winning this competition (entry to the Champions League) is bigger than finishing fifth or sixth and not many teams will want to face us in a one-off game. I fancy our chances of doing something.’

It is 146 days since Wolves drew their first leg at Olympiacos 1-1. It is more than a year since their journey in this competition began with a win at Crusaders on July 25, 2019.

Much has happened since then but not much of it has stalled Wolves’ steady move forwards. It was not always like this, at least not for Doherty.

He cried in the dressing room at Molineux after a home defeat by Burnley condemned Wolves to relegation from the Championship in 2013 — and not only because angry fans were trying to storm the players’ tunnel.

An earlier loan spell at Hibernian in the 2011-12 season was not enjoyable but the one that followed was.

‘Bury with manager Kevin Blackwell was the best thing ever,’ he recalled. ‘He believed in me straight away. We are still in touch.

‘You can’t beat it when a manager believes in you, the confidence that gives. It was incredible and I loved it there. Playing in front of 2,000 people. It just clicked.

‘I can’t believe what’s happened at Bury and I don’t know how it was allowed to get to the point where they don’t exist.

‘I stayed in digs with Wolves fans. I was in their spare room and we are friends to this day. I know that it’s been difficult for them.’

Although naturally confident, Doherty — a father of two — didn’t feel so bold when Nuno brought Wolves up from the Championship two summers ago. He wondered if he was good enough and had to put on a front, not for the first time.

‘I used to watch the Premier League on TV with my dad,’ Doherty said.

‘He would say, “You think you could play in that game?” It would be Man United versus Arsenal, so I would say yeah, but wouldn’t be so sure! What was I supposed to say?

‘And when you do get there, it is a big jump. But he was always certain. At least he said he was.

‘Maybe I should ask him if he really did mean it. I missed a call from him yesterday and owe him a call back.’

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