The lack of Irish players at the very top of the Premier League has been well documented with involvement in European competitions almost non-existent. In fact, League of Ireland sides have been at the forefront of Irish interest in Europe in recent years. And it’s another domestic game success story, Matt Doherty – signed from Bohemians by Wolverhampton Wanderers – who will surely catch the eye when the Wolves enter the Europa League group stages, the first time they’ll compete in continental competition for four decades.
It’s been a rollercoaster journey for Wolverhampton Wanderers in recent years. After so many years in the Premier League (or Division 1 as it was formally known) their downward spiral began in 2004 when they were relegated from the top tier. The club sat at the top end of the Championship for five seasons before becoming champions and claiming promotion – although their success was short lived. Just three seasons later, they were relegated into the Championship and the following season were relegated yet again into League One. They spent the season of 2013-14 in the lowest tier of football they’d been in since the 1980s.
Hitting rock bottom allowed the club to reset and they’ve been on the up ever since. Winning the Championship in the 2017-18 season gave them their first season back in the Premier League. Not only that, they finished 7th which means that for the first time since 1980, had a chance to play European football. Check out the UEFA Europa League Betting odds to see what the bookies make of their return to Europe.
Last month saw Wolves qualify for the group stages of the Europa League after defeating Italian side Torino 5-3 on aggregate. The second leg finished in a 2-1 victory with Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker both getting their names on the scoresheet. The team also defeated Northern Ireland’s Crusaders and Pyunik from Armenia to reach the group stage.Embed from Getty Images
Matt Doherty was signed from Bohemians in July 2010 and has gone on to make over 200 appearances for the Molineux club. Injury ruled him out of the most recent Ireland internationals and there is much debate about manager Mick McCarthy’s willingness to fit the player into his plans with captain Seamus Coleman first choice at right-back. Doherty was back on the bench and came on as a second-half substitute in the heavy defeat to Chelsea in time for Wolves return to European competition.
Wolves have been placed in Group K alongside Portuguese team SC Braga, Turkish side Besiktas JK and Slovakian club Slovan Brastislava. The matches will be spread throughout the continent but the highlight for most fans will surely be at Braga’s Portuguese ground where the stadium sits within a quarry – one of the most unique stadiums in Europe.
In terms of difficulty, Wolves are in with every chance of making it past the group stage. Their biggest challenge will be against Besiktas, who finished third in the Süper Lig last season. SC Braga reached the Europa League final in 2011 while SK Slovan Bratislava have been involved in European football every year since 2010, with a few years playing in the Champions League, although they have never made it past the group stage.
The club’s Premier League season hasn’t managed to get off to the best of beginnings with the club currently sitting towards the bottom of the table, although many would suggest their European campaign may have distracted them ever so slightly. The team haven’t faced the easiest of opponents thus far.
With the club in European action, Irish eyes will be focussed on Doherty’s performances with crucial Euro 2020 qualifiers on the horizon next month.