Matt Doherty: ‘Antonio Conte has changed the mentality of the club. He’s made us feel like winners’
Pre-season training saw his manager run his players until they were literally sick. And while Matt Doherty admits that the summer regime at Tottenham under Antonio Conte was “brutal”, the Dubliner says the Italian has instilled a mentality at the club which Doherty wants to transfer to his international career.
Many Premier League managers lack enthusiasm for international football, but Doherty quips that ex-Italy coach Conte has told Stephen Kenny that he wants to see Doherty get some game-time in the next two matches.
“That’s exactly what he said, he wants me to come away and try and get two games in. That’s kind of the plan, if Stephen obeys him,” Doherty joked.
But Conte’s regime is no laughing matter and while it’s hard work, Doherty says he’s thriving under the intense glare of the Tottenham boss.
“I think just obviously fitness-wise, there has been a huge improvement among the whole squad, not just me. It’s a different style of playing, a different way of playing, and I think you can see that from the results we get at club level now,” says Doherty, who is working his way back into the Spurs side after a season-ending injury last term saw him lose his place.
“We’re not dominating teams on the ball, but we never really look like we’ll concede many goals and with the boys up top, we’ll always have chances to win.
“And just mentally, he’s changed the whole mentality of the whole club. He’s made us feel like winners. We know he’s obviously won a lot in the past and we’re kind of trying to do it.”
And does Doherty bring that with him to the Ireland camp? “Personally, I’ve felt like that,” he says.
“We have meetings, we have talks where afterwards you feel motivated, you feel like I remember when he (Conte) first came in, we had a meeting and afterwards, you were ready to run through a wall for him. Look, he’s one of the best managers that has been around. So whatever he says we listen to him.
“He’s probably not as animated on the training pitch but he is still pretty animated. He just has a lot of passion for what he does and it comes back to us in the way that we are playing and how we press. We absolutely love having him as our manager and are pretty fortunate that he is manager of the club.”
Doherty missed the four-game series with Ireland in June but says he was boosted by regular contact from manager Kenny, as well as seeing from afar the progress made, from the losses in Armenia and at home to Ukraine, to the win over Scotland and a creditable draw away to Ukraine.
“The first few games were, obviously, tough, they didn’t go that well. I was a bit nervous before watching the Scotland game. But the lads played unbelievably well, kind of blew them away. I knew that it was a performance that they had in them. It was nice to finish the summer in the way that we did,” he says.
“Honestly, I think the confidence is really high all the time. We get coached extremely well, our game-plan is almost always spot on, so the confidence is there from the set-up we have, the belief that they give us.
“I think maybe at the start of the reign, when the manager first came in, he was trying to find confidence in players, but since then, everyone has been on top form and ready to play for him.
“He (Kenny) rang me a few times. When I was coming back from injury before the summer camp, I was never going to be fit but we kind of thought there might be half a chance I’d make that and it obviously didn’t work out. He contacted me a good few times even last week to see how I was feeling.
“The dialogue between us has been there, I’ve got a great relationship with them (management).”
Saturday sees Doherty go back to a ground he knows, Hampden Park, but not a place for fond memories: in the 2011/’12 season he was on loan to Hibernian from Wolves and helped Pat Fenlon’s side reach the Scottish Cup final, but a heavy beating by local rivals Hearts did hurt.
“It could not have gone worse. I had a tough game and we obviously lost the Edinburgh derby 5-1 in the end,” he says, prompted that he was also shown a yellow card in the defeat.
“Was I booked? Thanks for reminding me. That was pretty tough but I was young then.
“When you’re young like that you kind of just forget about it once it was over. I learned a lot from that loan spell
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