Doc's fired up and ready for blast off

DAVID CUFFLEY Gary Doherty is determined to pick up where he left off last season as Norwich City get their pre-season programme under way tonight. Ridgeons League Fakenham Town provide the opposition at Clipbush Park.


Gary Doherty is determined to pick up where he left off last season as Norwich City get their pre-season programme under way tonight.

Ridgeons League Fakenham Town provide the opposition at Clipbush Park (7.30pm) for the first of the Canaries' six preliminary matches before the main business of Coca-Cola Championship football begins at Leeds on Saturday, August 5.

Less than 12 months ago, Republic of Ireland international Doherty was still striving to establish himself in Nigel Worthington's senior line-up as City struggled to shake off the disappointment of relegation from the Premiership.

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But the 26-year-old grabbed his chance in central defence last season and topped the appearance list, missing just four matches out of 50 in all competitions. A poor campaign for City was a notable one for Doherty as he was crowned player of the season.

Now he rates himself as fit as a fiddle and ready for another nine months of hard slog.

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He said: “I've worked hard during the summer and I'm feeling fitter than ever - and we will need to be fit because it's going to be a long, tough season.

“After last season we know what it's going to be like. You have to be extremely fit in this league.

“The training has been hard, really hard, but there's also been lots of football.

“We've been finishing at seven at night and starting again at nine the next morning. The first two weeks were hot, but sometimes you don't notice all the running as long as you are playing football.

“It's helped that we've not had so many injuries during pre-season training, whereas last season we had a lot of injuries at the start.”

The standard of City's opposition will be gradually stepped up as the season approaches, with a trip to Conference team Cambridge United on Saturday followed by games at Scottish clubs Livingston and Falkirk, then Premiership Newcastle United providing the glamour for Craig Fleming's testimonial at Carrow Road on Wednesday, July 26. A home match against Northampton three days later completes the warm-up schedule.

“That's the way it's got to be,” said Doherty. “You don't want to be playing Manchester United in your first game.

“After two weeks of solid running, players want matches. We'll probably all get at least a half each at Fakenham and we have just got to go there and work hard and get our fitness levels up.

“Fakenham will want to make it tough for us. They will have been training hard for it and will be up for it.”

Doherty lost his place in the Republic of Ireland squad under new national team boss Steve Staunton towards the end of last season and is keen to regain it, but his number one concern is closer to home.

He said: “Everyone wants to play for their country, but playing well for Norwich is my main priority and if I'm doing that, the two will go hand in hand and my chance with Ireland will come again.”

Doherty has kept an eye on the comings and goings in the Championship and said: “The teams that have come down have spent a bit of money and West Brom have made quite good signings for this league. Hopefully we can also get some players in as quickly as possible.”

City forwards Robert Earnshaw and Ian Henderson, club captain Craig Fleming and young defender Matthew Halliday will be missing tonight because of minor knocks, but all should be available for the game at Cambridge.

“They just have some minor pre-season strains and we will be protecting them more than anything else,” said Worthington.

The quartet are joined on the sidelines by goalkeeper Robert Green and long-term casualty Matthieu Louis-Jean.

Worthington will give each of his travelling professional players a 45-minute run-out tonight - including the latest recruits from the Academy in Michael Spillane, Andrew Cave-Brown, Robert Eagle and Andrew Fisk.

“We will try and get everybody 45 minutes so we don't overdo things and run the risk of injury,” said Worthington. “It is just a case of getting game practice and getting the lads into it again. They have done a lot of work over the past 16 days and that work has been heavy.”

On show will be Fakenham's new clubhouse and changing rooms, built at a cost of around £400,000.

Club vice-chairman Paul Wright said: “It's highly appropriate that they will be used for the first time in a match against Norwich City and I am sure they will create a favourable impression. I can also assure you that the pitch will be in superb condition. Norwich have been up to inspect it and I think they were impressed by what they saw.”

The ground has a capacity of just under 3,000 and the Ghosts are hoping for a crowd of between 2,000 and 2,500.

Entry tonight is £8 for adults and £5 for under-16s and senior citizens.

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