Harry Doherty looks to make the most of his chance at Finn Harps

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Last April, Harry Doherty was brought into an office at Brighton and Hove Albion’s training ground and given the bad news.

The Buncrana man had played previously at Charlton Athletic having moved to The Valley at a young age. At Brighton, he felt he was developing well and had a taste of international football.

But after he was ushered into that meeting at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre, Brighton’s training ground, he knew the game was up.

“I was disappointed not to get another contract but that’s the football business,” he says now.

Doherty was in line to feature against former club Cockhill Celtic in the EA Sports League Cup tomorrow night but that fixture has since been postponed due to the death of Derry City captain Ryan McBride.

“I did my best with the opportunities I had and that’s all you can do,” added Doherty, who was speaking before McBride’s passing.

“The first few weeks and even months was probably the toughest, having to adjust back home and knowing you’re not flying back in time again for pre-season.

“My family and friends made it a lot easier to get back into things.”

Doherty initially signed with Ulster Senior League outfit Cockhill Celtic in the summer.

Before going away to Charlton, Doherty had played for Cockhill. Gavin Cullen even stepped aside to let Doherty take up the goalkeeeper’s position in his side.

Doherty said: “My few months back at Cockhill was really enjoyable and beneficial.

“I spoke to Gavin about how I needed game time and just getting back enjoying the game again.

“At the time Gavin was injured, so it worked well for me to come back and do both of those things.

“It helped massively. Gavin understood where I was coming from and the job he has been doing at Cockhill has been incredible.

“There is no surprise the recent achievements and accomplishments the club has earned.

“The club is very professional in everything it does and it was easy settling back in with the lads in the team.”

That said, it was a far cry from what had become the norm and there was certainly a big comedown from the previous few years when he was readying himself for the rigours of pre-season at Charlton or Brighton.

He was just 16 and a student at Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana when he headed off on his toes to Charlton.

The flame burned and the dream flickered brightly in those days as he began a two-year scholarship.

No-one sees or asks about the dark moments when you’re a budding young professional footballer, though.

“At times it was very tough, missing your family and friends would have been the main issue and then if you’re not playing or injured it could be a lonely place,” Doherty says.

“It had loads of good experiences too with making new friends and of course you’re training everyday and living a complete different lifestyle.

“I really enjoyed my scholarship. I enjoyed both my times at Charlton and Brighton.

“I played my under 18s football at Charlton and had a very good experience there. We won our league and had a good run in the FA Youth Cup as well.

“Playing at Brighton then after Charlton was a really enjoyable.

“I played a good few times in my first year there and in my second year I played in a few games before. It was great going out and playing men’s football when I went out on loan.”

Doherty was sent out to Hastings United in February.

Once he went back to Brighton, he could feel that the end was nigh.

Last summer, Ollie Horgan, the Finn Harps manager, deployed Doherty in a friendly match and again in November he was given a run by Horgan in a friendly fixture.

With Richard Brush, who swapped the slot between the sticks with Ciaran Gallagher for the duration of last season, going to Ballinamallard, there was an opening in the Harps squad.

Doherty was keen to get back to senior football and Horgan needed a ‘keeper of recognised quality. They were a perfect fit.

Cockhill manager and Finn Harps goalkeeper Gavin Cullen has backed Doherty to become a ‘top ‘keeper’ in the League of Ireland.

“He’s got all the attributes and ability to become a top ‘keeper in the League of Ireland,” Cullen said.

“I see this as a great opportunity for him and hopefully when Ollie gives him his chance he grabs it with both hands.”

Two weeks ago, Doherty was stunned into action when, during the game against Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds, a head injury forced Ciaran Gallagher out of action and Doherty was called to the fray.

The 20-year-old was thrown in at the deep end, but in the last half-an-hour he proved himself to be well able for life in the Premier Division.

It was easy to see why Noel King called him into a home-based Republic of Ireland Under-21 squad.

Doherty initially saved well from Dylan Connolly, who then steered home the rebound in the 5-3 win, but the Harps sub made stops Connolly and Gary McCabe in the closing stages.

Doherty said: “It was a great feeling coming on and making my debut. I don’t think it really hit me until after the game was done, I had very little time to think about coming on as it happened pretty quick.

“When Ciaran was down I just got up and went for a jog. I wasn’t sure if he was staying on or coming off.

“I went back to the bench and got told I’m going on. I was happy with the 30 or so minutes I played, made few saves and a punch from corner so I pleased how it went.”

In 2013, Doherty played twice for the Irish Under-17s in European qualifiers against Serbia and Georgia and in 2014 he featured against Netherlands and Sweden for the Ireland Under-19s.

This week, King has him on standby for the Under-21s for Saturday’s qualifier against Kosovo.

He said: “I’m really happy to still be in and around the Irish set up. It’s always an honour to get call up to the squad – either on the squad or on standby.

“I have been in the Irish set up since under-16 level up to under-19s.

“Being involved with the home-based under-21 squad was a good experience.”

Indeed, Doherty was one of three Harps goalkeepers to get an international call-up this year with Lee McCarron away with the Under-19s and Jamie Bell in the Schoolboys squad.

Doherty said: “We must be something right up here. It’s always great seeing other players from the club getting call ups. It really shows the quality in the squads we have up here.”

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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