Adrian Doherty – ‘Football’s Lost Genius’ – and the Finn Harps connection

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A PHOTOGRAPH depicting a familiar-looking bunch of footballers from the 1990s – dressed in those distinctive ‘Sharp’-emblazoned red shirts, white shorts and black socks of Manchester United – has been doing the rounds this week.

The team was snapped before an FA Youth Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur in April 1990.

Some of them are instantly recogniseable.

The goalkeeper is Mark Bosnich, who had Premier League spells at Aston Villa, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Picture caption: The Manchester United team before the 1990 FA Youth Cup semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur. Picture used courtesy of Manchester United FC.

Third from left on the back row is Darren Ferguson – son of Sir Alex – now manager of Doncaster Rovers and played fleetingly with United before moving to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

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In between them is a skinny teenager who was always destined for stardom.

Ryan Giggs made 963 appearances at United, winning 13 Premier Leagues, four FA Cups and two European Cups and is now the assistant manager at Old Trafford.

They aren’t the focus of this week’s headlines, though.

Kneeling to the right of the front row with a football resting at his right knee is Adrian Doherty.

A native of Strabane, Doherty was tipped by Ferguson to ‘go all the way’. Others who mattered concurred with that notion.

Doherty never even went part of the way.

A cruciate injury, just when he was on the verge of a first-team breakthrough, ended his hopes and, ultimately, his career.

Giggs described Doherty as ‘electric’, ‘an incredible talent’ and ‘the quickest I had ever seen’.

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“He was off the cuff,” said Giggs.

“Playing alongside him or training with him or watching him, he would do something that would make you smile — beating three or four men and sticking it in the top corner.”

Matt Bradley is a renowned scout based in Derry. It was he who put United in touch with Doherty, whom he regards on his website as ‘the best young player I have seen in Ireland in over 30 years of coaching and scouting.’

After his cruciate injury, Doherty fell away from the game after only three appearances for Derry City, the first of those a penalty shoot-out win over Finn Harps at Finn Park in August 1993. The local press reported Doherty as having caused Harps ‘havoc’ during the 0-0 draw.

Doherty’s father, Jimmy, turned out 19 times for Harps in their first two seasons in the League of Ireland.

In 2000, Doherty went to The Hague in Holland and on May 7 2000 he slipped and fell into a canal one morning as he was on his way to work.

Doherty couldn’t swim.

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He spent a month in a coma and, on June 9 2000, a day before he was to turn 27, he died.

His tragic, harrowing tale is detailed in a book Forever Young, penned by the Chief Football Correspondent of The Times, Oliver Kay, and due to be released on May 19.

That picture of the United youths caught the eye here for another reason.

Standing behind Doherty and wearing the captain’s armband is Jason Lydiate.

Who?

In August 1999 – three months after Finn Harps had been beaten by Bray Wanderers in an FAI Cup final marathon that took three visits to Tolka Park and two periods of extra time to settle – Charlie McGeever gave four players their debuts when Harps hosted Cork City in Ballybofey in the opening game of the season.

New signings Johnny Kenny and Mark Hutchinson were handed first starts as Harps looked to impress early on.

McGeever included in his team a youngster from Raphoe by the name of Gerard McGranaghan – who last week won the Donegal League Premier Division with Drumoghill FC.

Completing the quartet of new faces in a Harps side McGeever hoped could qualify for Europe was a former Manchester United youth captain, on trial at Harps from Rochdale.

That player was the same Jason Lydiate.

Details on Lydiate at the time were sketchy at best.

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“We have signed Jason on a short term contract and he will play this weekend,” was all McGeever had to say in the build-up.

His debut was uneventful. Harps lost 2-1 and headed to Morton Stadium in Santry for their next assignment against Damien Richardson’s Shamrock Rovers.

It was there that Lydiate forever etched his name into the minds of those present around the famous athletics track.

After 25 minutes, Lydiate shot past his own goalkeeper, Brian McKenna, from outside the box, to put Rovers in front.

It would be his one and only meaningful contribution in a Harps shirt.

“What a finish that was from 25 yards,” says Shane Bradley, a Harps substitute that afternoon.

“Jason was a very quiet lad. Always kept himself to himself. Maybe he was wondering how he ended up in Finn Park. We’ll always remember him for the own goal against Rovers. He didn’t feature much after that.”

Lydiate Harps

Jason Lydiate (right) in action for Finn Harps against Cork City in 1999. Picture courtesy of Irish Newspaper Archive

He didn’t feature again at all for Harps, in fact.

‘Lydiate once played with Beckham, Giggs and Scholes at under-age level for Manchester United. More recently, he’s been on the books of Rochdale and he may not be long with Harps on the evidence of this lumbering display,’ was how the Irish Independent summed up his performance against Rovers.

In his fortnight in Ballybofey, he managed to earn himself the rather unfortunate moniker ‘Lydiate the idiot’.

‘Jason Lydiate, who joined the club from Rochdale on a short term deal, is not match fit and subsequently unlikely to earn an extension to his contract’ was as much as his departure merited in the local media.

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Harps lost six of their opening seven games that season, McGeever was gone as manager in October and only a late rally at the end of the season, inspired by the arrival of former Barnsley striker Mike Turner, saw them stay up by a point.

A season that ended with one English signing being the hero had begun with another going into the minds of those present at Morton Stadium for all the wrong reasons.

And to think, only nine years previously, he lined out alongside superstar-in-waiting Giggs and Doherty, now described on the cover of Kay’s tome as ‘Football’s Lost Genius’.

Sports writer from St Johnston, now based in Letterkenny, with ten years' experience covering sport in Donegal. Was a nominee for NUJ Sports Journalist of the Year in 2010. Honoured by the Donegal Boxing Board in 2016 for his coverage on the sport.

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