ULSTER CHAMPIONSHIP SPECIAL: 'Late bloomer' Eamonn Doherty ready for Cavan game

Tom Comack sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Eamonn Doherty, the versatile Donegal defender, by his own admission is a late ‘bloomer’ and after six seasons in a Donegal senior shirt he is finally playing to his potential.

The St Eunan’s clubman (pictured) was a member of the 2010 Donegal U-21 team under Jim McGuinness, beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland final in Kingspan Breffni Park.

But he did not join the Donegal senior set-up and get his first start until three years later, in 2013.

“I was a late bloomer so I had the chance to go and I went to Boston for a summer in 2011. I turned 21 out there.

“Four of us from the (2010) under 21 team, Decky Walsh, James Carroll, Antoin McFadden and myself went to Boston.

“I was in college that year, and the opportunity arose to go, and it was a very last minute decision.

“I'm delighted I did it, because I wouldn't be mature enough to be training with the senior squad that year anyway, so it would have been a part-time job at home for the summer.

“There are fellas that came in when they were 18 like Paddy McBrearty, and Michael Murphy and Ryan McHugh, but there are very few fellas that can jump into that pace at that age,” said Eamonn, who some would say has played his best football so far in a Donegal senior shirt in this year’s league.

“I was happy alright. I would probably be my worst critic, so I wouldn't say I was great, and there was a lot of room for improvement.

“But I was happy with how it went and I got a good run at it this year injury-wise.

“I had an injury at the start of last year which hampered my fitness, and I wasn't able to contribute much until I was fit, and I think it was the middle of February before I started seeing any game time last year.

“This year I've had a clear run at it, and I'm feeling much better. There's plenty in the tank yet.

“I needed to learn the hard way over a few years and bit by bit I'm learning. It takes time to get adjusted to playing at the top level.

“There's a different management team this year, and I'm learning more from them again. I have been very lucky with the managements I've had, and they have all been very supportive.”

Former team mate and Donegal’s most decorated footballer of all time, Karl Lacey, is part of that backroom team.

“It's strange and you still think that he's about to jump into a few of the drills with you when he's standing there watching.

“He loves it, and the way he can break things down and explain it more (is helpful).

“He knows the way the game is going, and he knows his stuff. I've learned an awful lot from him this year already.

“He would be chatting away to fellas on one-on-one stuff as well, and he would be working with the defensive group quite a lot.

“That's something we needed to tighten up over the league and he's put a lot of work in.”

On the back of a good league campaign Eamonn is in line for a place in the Donegal back six for Sunday’s joust with Cavan.

It will be a first time for him to face Cavan in the championship though he has faced them in the Allianz League and at underage and in College.

“We were fortunate with Jim to beat them in the U-21 final in 2010.

“That was just before they went on their big run of winning four in-a-row.

“We lost to them the next year. You'd know a lot of the lads that are still playing, and I'd know a lot of them from college. There was an awful lot of those fellas down about Dublin when I was down there.

“They are very good footballers, and they are very proud of their football in Cavan as well.

“They are a very good team, and we played them last year and it was tight enough in Breffni Park that night.

“It was fairly edgy, and only that we had a man extra did us a favour really.

“We're looking forward to a good hard game on Sunday.

“It's a lot different to the league, and I know people are mad to compare the championship to the league, but you can't really compare the two of them.

“In the league, you're building fitness and finding form, and you might experiment in different ways with how we're playing, or how the opposition is playing.

“But come the championship, it's a different story, and there's a lot more on the line.

“It will be a packed house and we haven't played in many packed houses all year.

“It will be a completely different atmosphere and hopefully if the weather holds up like that, it will just add to it.

“There's a great buzz about, especially since we got the league over and done with and we could really focus in on the championship, and get good hard training done.

“The league came thick and fast, and we had a lot of games and with that McKenna Cup final being put in on one of the weeks off we were meant to have.

“We had very few weekends off from the end of January right up to the end of the league, so it was good to get a few solid weeks there to really drive at it and we are now ready for action.”