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FOOTBALL: GOOD TO BE HOME; eircom LEAGUE OF IRELAND LATEST Shelbourne v Bray W: Shels are just what the Doc ordered.

Byline: Michael SCULLY

LIVERPOOL was great and all - but there's nothing to beat playing for Shelbourne in competitive action.

Is Kevin Doherty mad? Not at all, actually. The former Irish underage skipper loved his three years at Liverpool's acclaimed academy but it was a surreal environment to play football in.

That's because even when Liverpool won the reserve league two seasons ago, there was no great celebration. No emphasis was placed on a result, just on individual performances.

The players were told that the winning medal wasn't important, their personal development as players was all that mattered.

Doherty could understand that - but now that he's involved in the cut and thrust of Shelbourne's title challenge in the eircom Premier Division, winning is all that matters.

The three points are Doherty's sole concern ahead of tonight's clash with Bray Wanderers at Tolka Park.

"It's just great to be playing first-team football," he admitted."Winning is much more important to me now, and it's something that has taken a while to get used to.

"When I was at Liverpool you could lose or draw a game but all the coaches cared about was the way players passed the ball. Once you played well, that's what counted.

"But now it's different. I felt gutted when we lost in Longford on Saturday.

The result matters now...I'm always looking at the league table to see where we are."

A former Home Farm schoolboy, Doherty was making a lot of progress with the Reds and was a regular in Brian Kerr's underage international sides.

Now 21, the Artane-born defender had an idea that he wouldn't be staying at Liverpool for the remainder of his career, despite the praise he received from the coaches.

Then disaster struck two years ago when he broke his leg. A nothing game, - Ireland's under-18s were playing PSV in a European warm-up and he suffered a bad fracture.

Before he joined Shels in the summer, Doherty hardly played another match at club or international level.

"It was terrible because I was happy with Liverpool, and happy with Ireland. I was made captain for that match as well.

"But since the injury I have watched Don Givens call players into the under-21 squad who I was ahead of, and that's been frustrating. I'm still hopeful, though, I still qualify for that age group."

Now, his priority is Shels. He knew Dermot Keely and Alan Matthews from his Home Farm days and when his time was up at Liverpool, Doherty was persuaded to sign for the other Reds when he had a look at the facilities.

He spent a week at Grimsby and they asked him to sign - but he was more impressed by what he heard and saw at Tolka.

Keely told him it could take him a year to adjust to the League, but it's only taken him a few months.

"Shels have a better set-up than Grimsby," he said.

"Rushden and Diamonds were also interested but once I was spoke to Shels that was it. I come from just up the road, and they're a club I always liked.

"I'm starting to settle in more comfortably. I've got a few games under my belt and I'm feeling sharper now, and I'm learning from the likes of Tony McCarthy, Jim Gannon and Peter Hutton.

"I could go back someday if there's an offer on the table that can't be refused, but I'm happy here."

Richie Baker is back for the Reds, but his brother Dessie remains sidelined with an ankle injury.

Bray, meanwhile, are unbeaten in three games and will provide stern opposition.

CAPTION(S):

HEADS UP{: No more Liverpool but Kevin Doherty is happy to be home; LESSONS: Doherty matured under the guidance of Irish underage boss Brian Kerr
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 8, 2001
Words:629
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