Looking to the Future

Friday 11 June 2004

With the advent of the modern day Academy structure and the more gradual approach to developing young players, the days of throwing youngsters into the first team with a 'sink or swim' philosophy are long gone.

Nowadays young Premiership hopefuls looking to break in to the first team are more likely to be given their first taste of competitive action through loan moves to lower division clubs. That was certainly the case with many of Fulham's young players last season, with the likes of Zesh Rehman, Elvis Hammond, Ross Flitney and Mark Hudson all enjoying the benefits of first team football outside the Premiership.

With reserve team football only being able to challenge players to a certain extent, loan moves have long been acknowledged in management circles as the missing link between reserve and first team action. Indeed, many Fulham fans may remember a certain David Beckham scoring from a free kick against the Whites back in 1995 whilst on loan at Preston.

However, for highly-rated prospect Sean Doherty, last season's short loan move to Second Division side Blackpool provided an educational experience of a different sort.

"That was a bad experience for me," said Doherty speaking to fulhamfc.com. "Mainly because there was a bit of bad publicity put out about me that wasn't true, but I learned some valuable lessons from the whole thing.

"It came out in the papers that I was speaking as if I was a big time Premiership player but there was no truth in that. I was very disappointed to see those things being said about me. But the whole experience motivated me even more to go out and show what I can do."

His loan spell aside, Doherty was able to look back on the season with a good degree of happiness as he made steady progress towards his Fulham debut; having been included in the first team squad for the home match against Middlesbrough and the away game at Southampton.

"I've got to look back on the season as a success," he said. "I've been involved with the first team twice, which was one of my aims before the season started. Hopefully next season I'll be able to come on as a sub or start the odd match.

"Being with the first team players and management was a new experience for me. It was certainly different to being with the reserves - so I know what it's all about if I'm involved against.

"I think I've worked hard and I'm going to carry on working throughout the summer. I've got a weights programme that I'm going to go through because I need to get a bit stronger.

"It's been quite a difficult season in some ways. I've had a run of bad games but I managed to turn that around which helped me to get involved with the first team. At the moment I've got my place in the reserves and if I can stay there next season, hopefully I'll be able to make a push for the first team."

One particular member of Fulham's squad management team knows Doherty a bit better than most. Academy Manager, John Murtough was coaching at Everton when Doherty made the move to London and is hopeful of Sean's chances next season.

"Sean is a very technically gifted wide midfield player," said Murtough. "He's very quick and can deliver a great ball into the box. I was at Everton when he left and it was seen as a great coup for Fulham to get such a talented player.

"He's played at international level and was consistent in the reserves last season. It's going to be a big year for Sean next season. He's got to look to move to the next level so there's a lot of hard work to do.

"He's got a great chance. He's got all the attributes needed to play in the Premiership but, like any young player, he's got to get his head down and make sure he catches the manager's eye and shows something special.

"To play in the Premiership, you've got to be tough both physically and mentally and be able to deal with the all that's asked of you. Sean's gone through all of those experiences, so hopefully he'll be able to take the next step up."