Emma Doherty celebrates scoring against Shelbourne. Photo: Sportsfile
It was something of a chance encounter that opened the door for Emma Doherty at first.
The world was her oyster as she mulled over the possibilities of what lay ahead after sitting her Leaving Certificate.
It was an ordinary afternoon at Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana. A representative from IT Sligo was in the school and Doherty’s interest in Yeats Country was already piqued with the news that Sligo Rovers were entering the Women’s National League.
The 17-year-old topped the goalscoring charts in the Under-17 Women’s National League last season, scoring 28 times for the Donegal Women’s League. She added another three while representing the Under-19s.
Her tally included an eight-goal haul against Bohemians and she netted five in another game against Sligo Rovers.
Earlier this year, Doherty wondered of the IT Sligo man if there was a connection between college and club. Soon, the wheels were in motion.
After her first training session, Doherty knew that her immediate future lay at The Showgrounds.
“From the first session, it was so good, I knew that I was signing,” Doherty says.
“After that day where I was talking about IT Sligo, dad spoke to Steve (Feeney, the Sligo Rovers manager). At the start I was like: ‘Aww, Sligo is so far away, I’ll only be able to do once a week at training.
“Once I trained, that was it. It was so intense, so good. I just knew that I would get better at Sligo Rovers. I am so happy at Sligo. Steve is an unreal manager, one of the best I have ever had. It’s been amazing here.”
On Saturday, The Showgrounds danced to Doherty’s beat. The Buncrana woman scored twice, after Greencastle’s Gemma McGuinness reduced the margin, as the Bit O’Red - the WNL newcomers - came from 2-0 down to defeat table-toppers Shelbourne 3-2.
“It was unreal,” Doherty says.
“I don’t know what it was on Saturday, but even when they were 2-0 up we believed that we could do it.
“It was 2-1 at half-time and we said to ourselves in the changing rooms that we could beat them. A big part of that was the crowd. There was a big crowd cheering us on.
“We have great character in the squad. The girls are just class. We’ve got some great players there. Really, no-one had a bad game. Everyone put in a shift for us.
“It was still almost hard to believe at the end. It was like: ‘Oh my God, did we just beat Shelbourne?’ We didn’t go back into the dressing room for ages. We took it all in. You have to enjoy moments like that and make the most of them.”
The game was shown live on TG4 and threatened to become an ordeal for the Bit O’Red when Pearl Slattery and Alex Kavanagh struck to give Noel King’s Shels a 2-0 advantage.
However, Sligo hit back with Greencastle native McGuinness firing home. In the second half, it was the turn of Doherty to take centre stage.
The 18-year-old latched onto a pass from Amy Boyle-Carr - the Glenties woman who only signed last week - to draw Sligo level in the 55th minute.
Just after the hour came Doherty’s big moment, stunning Shelbourne when shooting past Amanda Budden after a Lauren Boles clearance fell her way.
“That was definitely the highlight of my season so far,” Doherty said. “It was just amazing. The crowd was going mad, chanting away. It was such a buzz.”
Sligo are now looking ahead to a Women’s FAI Cup quarter-final, away to Bohemians, on Saturday-week at Dalymount Park.
Doherty’s own stock has risen considerably in recent times.
At the 2019 Bob Docherty Cup in Salou, Doherty scored one of the goals in the Republic of Ireland Schools Under-15s’ 2-0 win over Scotland. Ellie Long, now of Sion Swifts, was also on the Ireland Schools squad that won the tournament.
Doherty has been a regular performer in the Irish shirt. Next week, she takes part in a three-day training camp in Limerick with the Under-19s. She has another year left at that age group. The mind has wandered given the company she keeps on the pitch now.
“The dream is to play for Ireland seniors, but I just have to focus on now,” she says. “Even playing Shelbourne, I was looking at the likes of Abbi Larkin and Jessie Stapleton, who are up at the seniors.
“It is achievable, but I can’t be looking too far ahead. The gap is massive from under-19 to senior. I wish there was like another step there in between.
“We have the UEFA qualifiers in October with the under-19s. We have Poland, France and Northern Ireland so we have a hard enough group.
“I love playing for Ireland. It’s unreal. I just want to keep going there too.
“I have been dropped from squads a couple of times and it’s so hard to take. I never want that feeling again. It’s horrible seeing others going away and you’re at home wanting to be there so much. It drives you on, that.”
Doherty has hit nine goals in her maiden season in the WNL. She has nine goals and has ambitious targets for the remainder of the campaign.
Doherty cut her teeth while playing for Buncrana Hearts and Illies Celtic. The likes of Davy Hone and John Doherty were key to her development and remain in contact.
She was still a young teen when playing for Illies in a competitive North West Women’s Super League in 2019.
That was a year after she suffered a horror injury.
Storm Emma, as it so happened to be called, brought snow in March. Doherty was at her grandmother’s house in Illies ‘just playing in the snow’. The innocent sleighing in the snow resulted in a broken leg and ten months out of action.
Twelve months to the day, she was playing for Ireland in Salou.
“I had a good run of it then,” she says.
“Going to Sligo in the Women’s National League was a step I had to take. I’m sure people expected us to finish bottom, but we’re not far off seventh. We’re learning and developing, but we’re looking to push up, of course.
“We’re able to compete. We have to believe that we can go on.”
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