October 3, 2022

As Trent Kone-Doherty’s classmates at St Brigid’s College in Derry, Northern Ireland, walked out of the school gates last Thursday to start their summer vacation, their fifth-year classmate celebrated his 16th birthday with his family in Liverpool, the city he now calls home.

On Friday morning, the winger began training with the club’s academy at its base in Kirkby after completing a transfer from hometown club Derry City.

It was in his fourth year of high school that Kone-Doherty gave up playing for the school team to focus on progressing with Derry and the Republic of Ireland at youth level.

This level of focus, hard work and natural ability enabled the teenager to move to Liverpool.

At an awards night in 2019, when Kone-Doherty lifted the Under-13 Player of the Season trophy, a reporter asked around if Derry coaches had high hopes of the young winger would one day be a first-team player. The feeling around the club was that Kone-Doherty might not play for the first team at all.

Most knew, when it came to their beloved Derry, that this local boy was destined for something greater. This was particularly clear to Derry when Liverpool and Celtic were touring and monitoring his development.

It wasn’t just those in Derry who believed Kone-Doherty had the ability to move on to one of the best clubs in the world. Those at his first Foyle Harps club always believed he had what it took.

For those who had seen him kick a ball on a pitch at Shantallow as a six-year-old and later at Leafair Park, a move of this magnitude felt within reach.

Gerry Doherty, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Sunday, is chairman of Foyle Harps and has been involved with the club – which produced Republic of Ireland defender Shane Duffy – for almost half of his 106-year career. existence. He says Kone-Doherty joined the team when he was six years old and over the year they could all see there was something special about him.

“There were about 20 youngsters in that age group, but you could always see Trent was special because he had one thing – blistering pace,” says Doherty, who is referred to as ‘Doc’ by those who follow him. know. “And not only could he run, but he could finish. Many boys can run, but when they approach the goal, they don’t know what to do. Trent wasn’t like that.

Doherty remembers Kone-Doherty’s side playing a tournament at Brighton academy when he was 11 or 12.

“They couldn’t believe Trent’s ability. You always knew there was something about him. You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don’t have the right attitude, you might as well have nothing. Trent has always been a good coach. When his coaches spoke, he always listened. Other young people might be staring at the sky or muttering under their breath, but Trent always listened and was always ready to learn.

“In games we were always looking for Trent to do something special to get us out of a hole. Some of the goals he scored were unbelievable. He was going past a few players and then kicking – out of the blue he hit a rocket. When he was under 10, he went to Scotland with us for his first international tournament. He was our best player. People would come up to us saying, ‘Who is this young man?’

Kone-Doherty, who can play on either wing and likes to cut on his right foot, played on the forward line for Foyle Harps. “Once Trent got past you, there was no way to catch him!” Doherty adds. “It’s a flying machine.”

Doherty, who lost his wife a few years ago, says whenever the teenager passes him on the street, he always stops to chat. His mannerisms are something others have pointed out about Kone-Doherty – how he remembers the names of the parents of former teammates from a decade ago and how he always makes an effort to say hello to everyone .

“He always stops for a thread. He wouldn’t pass you by. He has both feet on the ground, which is good,” Doherty says.

Not only are these feet on the ground, but they are “two big feet” as journalist Simon Collins puts it.

Collins has covered Derry City for the Derry Journal since 2007 and remembers seeing Kone-Doherty, who joined the club aged 13, in a pre-season game against a local team called Institute earlier this year.

“I was surprised to see him included in this team,” he says. “He didn’t hurt himself when he came in. He has a blistering pace and was not afraid. It didn’t seem to scare him or take anything away from him. He hadn’t played a minute of senior football before that and there he was just dribbling the ball past the men.

“Other than that, we haven’t seen much of him. But hearing from academy coaches over the years, they feel like they’ve unearthed a bit of a star.

Mark McChrystal is Derry’s first-team coach and, like the majority of staff at the club, he’s not surprised the young talent has earned himself a monumental blow.

McChrystal himself can say he made the trip to England at the same age to join Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“The advice I would give him is to keep going,” said the former Tranmere Rovers defender. “He has to keep his head down, keep working hard every day in training to try to be better than he was the day before. Don’t think too far and enjoy it.

(Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)