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Bannsiders up for the Mother of all tasks in Europa League qualifier, admits midfielder Doherty


Ben Doherty in action against Maribor

Ben Doherty in action against Maribor

Ben Doherty in action against Maribor

Coleraine's hero in Slovenia has described Thursday night's Europa League clash with Motherwell at The Showgrounds as "a monster of a task".

Ben Doherty scored the crucial winning penalty against Maribor last month to set up the mouth-watering tie against the Scottish Premiership's basement side.

It proved to be redemption for the 23-year-old, who missed a vital spot-kick in Coleraine's shoot-out defeat to Ballymena United in last season's Irish Cup semi-final.

It was the culmination of months of heartache and disappointment for the Derry man, sidelined for most of the year with a torn hamstring.

"It has been a difficult year in that respect," Doherty says.

"Then with Covid-19 restrictions, preparation for the games has been even more difficult.

"My dad (former Derry City and Crusaders midfielder Eamon) was a massive help through the injury period, he has been a huge support to me since I was young.

"Missing the League Cup final was the hardest part because you don't feel part of it, even if you are there with your team-mates.

"I scored in every round up to the final so it was a bitter pill but I didn't moan or walk around with a sour face. Injuries are a challenge and other players have suffered far worse.

"I tore the hamstring against Cliftonville in January and got 10 minutes of a game before lockdown kicked in, but it's not the end of the world and you have to motivate yourself. The other players have been great in supporting me too.

"The likes of Stevie Douglas, Winkie Murphy, Stephen Lowry and even the gaffer, Oran Kearney, have all been there before and were great in encouraging me when I was injured.

"We took stick and I took some abuse when we lost on penalties to Ballymena, but you have to be thick skinned and take the lows with the highs.

"When we went to penalties in Maribor, I could either duck out of it or take the chance to wipe out the memory of the missed penalty and it was great to get the monkey off my back because it did affect me.

"I feel much better now after scoring the most historic penalty in the club's history and we look forward to playing Motherwell this week.

"It's a monster of a task because they are full-time, playing at a higher standard and we will be underdogs, but that suits us.

"No one gave us a prayer against Maribor - the Northern Ireland media, Slovenian media, even Maribor themselves.

"People would come up to me and say things like, 'What scoreline would you take?' and 'Fewer than five will be okay'.

"Together, as a team, we thought, 'What have we got to lose here?' After 20 minutes, we looked at each other and felt our belief in ourselves grow.

"We had a good shape and had nothing to fear from Maribor, but being underdogs helped."

As one of Northern Ireland's brightest young talents, the European stage will bring wider attention to Doherty and the attacking player admits he would love to follow in the footsteps of Gavin Whyte, Mark Sykes, Joel Cooper et al across the water.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to play full-time football," says the bank official.

"Every young player wants to make a living in the game.

"Hopefully I'll get the opportunity but I'm happy at Coleraine and hoping to improve on a great season last year.

"We want to be up there fighting, which will be harder bearing in mind the new investment at clubs. It's very hard to call at this stage but it looks set to be another exciting season."

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