January feels like it was a sliding doors moment for Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman.

For a long time, the pair have been at the heart of a robust debate around who should play at right-back for the Republic of Ireland. Can they operate in the same XI? And if they can, how do you best use them?

Martin O'Neill, Mick McCarthy and Stephen Kenny have all had to field that question many times over the last few years but it's a debate that has fizzled out since Kenny settled on a 3-4-2-1 formation and Coleman’s injuries opened the door for Doherty to get his run in that midfield four.

Overall, he’s taken his chance pretty well.

Doherty has had 18 starts under Kenny compared to Coleman's seven. He was an important part of the mini resurgence towards the end of the qualification campaign, featuring in the wins against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, the draw with Portugal plus the 4-0 friendly trouncing of Qatar.

Coleman’s Ireland future looks more likely to be as part of a central defensive three rather than wing-back, but the competition is hot: John Egan, Shane Duffy, Andrew Omobamidele, Dara O'Shea and Nathan Collins all offer competition in the short and long-term.

It has been a tough campaign for the 33-year-old.

Coleman is a very well liked and respected figurehead for club and country, captain of both and someone who has never shirked his responsibilities. But right now he's struggling in a team that is all at sea defensively.

Conversely, Doherty is beginning to look like a man on a mission.

Monday night’s Premier League clash between Spurs and Everton offered the starkest evidence yet that both are in a very different moments, with Doherty making two of his side's five goals from right wing-back while Coleman looked exposed in a floundering visiting back four.

Coleman has been taking a lot of flak from Toffees supporters recently; a scapegoat when really the club's issues run much deeper than his own rocky form.

In his role as a Sky Sports pundit, Jamie Carragher probably summed it up best when he said: "Seamus Coleman, I actually feel sorry for him. He's been a great full-back for Everton, but right now this is happening far too much, where people are just running in behind him.

"And that goes back to Everton's recruitment, that Seamus Coleman's still playing right now."

Which brings us back to that January transfer window.

Having fallen out with Lucas Digne, Rafa Benitez sold the Frenchman to Aston Villa and brought in left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko from Dynamo Kyiv and young right-full Nathan Patterson from Rangers. Within a couple of weeks, Benitez was sacked.

Frank Lampard replaced him and has largely stuck with Coleman and Jonjoe Kenny in the full-back positions and while the manager's arrival did give the team an initial lift - Coleman scored in a vibrant 3-0 dismantling of Leeds - woeful away form has sucked Everton back towards the danger zone.

At this point in his career Everton should probably be using Coleman similarly to how Liverpool utilise James Milner: an experienced and versatile pro who can steady games off the bench, exert positive influence in the dressing-room and provide good cover throughout a long, hard season.

Instead, he's being overplayed because of the club's poor recruitment/long-term planning. Patterson may prove to be a decent acquisition over the next few seasons, but right now he's clearly not fancied to step into the cut and thrust of a relegation scrap. As a consequence Coleman has been flogged.

He has played 28 games already this year, having played 33 times in each of the last two seasons [across club and country]. The campaign before that - Coleman's first full one having overcome the awful injury he sustained against Wales - he got through 37 matches.

This wouldn't be such an issue if he was part of a stronger unit but with the influential Yerry Mina injured, centre-halves Michael Keane and Mason Holgate are flailing.

Meanwhile down in London, Doherty is threatening to resurrect a Spurs career that looked finished.

Antonio Conte was very keen on Adama Traore of Wolves in January. He wanted to harness the Spaniard’s speed and make him into a wing-back.

Conte has form here. He successfully converted Victor Moses into a right wing-back at Chelsea during their 2016/17 Premier League-winning campaign and felt Traore had the attributes to do an effective job for Tottenham in that area.

Traore was less sure. He backed out of the move and went to Barcelona instead, a decision that frustrated Conte but threw Doherty a lifeline.

The 30-year-old has struggled to show his best form since Jose Mourinho signed him in the summer of 2020, his patchiness continuing even under Nuno Espirito Santo, who he had excelled under at Wolves.

Conte is a ruthless operator who doesn't hang around when it comes to wielding the axe so Doherty's upturn in form is timely.

Having looked certain to depart the club in the summer - Spurs were reportedly willing to let him go back to Wolves in January as part of the Traore deal - he's now giving himself a chance to stick around.

Doherty was excellent in the 4-0 win at Leeds and even better in Monday night's 5-0 hammering of Everton. That was a game where he reminded onlookers of the class he possesses, drifting infield to offer a creative outlet just as Trent Alexander Arnold often does at Liverpool.

The quality of the passes he provided for the two Harry Kane goals would not have been lost on Conte, who singled the Irishman out for praise in his post-match press conference.

Heung-Min Son was generous in his praise of the ex-Bohemians man after the Leeds game too, saying: "He showed what a player he can be, and how he can help the team. I'm very, very happy for him and I hope he continues to work like this and he helps the team."

It all bodes well for Doherty, who will hope to nail down a place as Spurs make a late-season push to make the top four.

Meanwhile, Coleman will strap himself in for a dog fight. He's the type of character Lampard needs in his dressing-room right now, but as calls from the support base grow for a change at right-back, the Toffees stalwart could be taken out of the firing line.

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