Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cillian Sheridan: a maverick worth following

Cillian Sheridan. The man from Cavan appeared on RTÉ's Soccer Republic on Monday night to be interviewed as part of the Irish Abroad segment - and in the face of questions from Tony O'Donoghue, he just completely, almost comically, undersold the impressive nature of every one of his recent career experiences, some of which he'll be hard pushed to ever repeat again. 

He brushed them off, as if it was just the norm for him to be the only Irishman to play Champions League football in any given season; or that to be a man from Ballieborough earning his living in Cyprus via a stint in Sofia is just the expectancy; or that being invited to the Irish Embassy in Nicosia "for some sort of dinner thing" was a regular occurrence.

"It's a long way from Cavan to Cyprus," said O'Donoghue to Sheridan. 
"Yeah, it's a fair distance, but I'm doing good now at the minute," replied Sheridan, quite placidly.

I hope Sheridan wore this to the Irish Embassy in Cyprus, despite the fact the occasion was Paddy's Day. Source: BBC/
How Sheridan has found himself in Cyprus is one thing. How he's so laid back about it all is beyond me. Perhaps being from Dublin, I just don't fully 'get' the way Cavan folk express themselves (emphasised perhaps by a lad replying "hay for sale" to a tweet I posted in relation to Sheridan - I was nonplussed to say the least).

Sheridan came across as bashful on Soccer Republic, like he was wondering why he was being interviewed for a national television show in the first place. Take for example his reply to a question about playing against Barcelona in the Champions League this season for APOEL Nicosia, the current Cypriot First Division champions.

"Em, to be fair, the first game we played them and the second game, it was like night and day in terms of Barcelona," Shero said with earnest. "Obviously the first game, we actually came away from the Nou Camp feeling unlucky to lose, which is not something a lot of people would've expected. And then the second game, they were just in a different gear. Messi and was night and day, like I said."

What I liked about this reply was that it was honest. People, when talking about Barcelona, often fall into the trap of eulogising the Catalan side, and they don't realise they're simply repeating trite platitudes (maybe because, as the cliché goes, there are no superlatives left to describe Barcelona). Not Killer Sheridan, though. 

"Pfft, yeah, they were lucky we didn't show them up at the Nou Camp" may as well have been what he said, and he wouldn't have been wrong given how the games panned out (a slightly below strength Barca won the first game 1-0 at home in very unBarca fashion - a Gerard Piqué header from a Leo Messi set-piece; with a full compliment available to boss Luis Enrique for the return, normal service resumed as Barca ran out 4-0 winners in Nicosia).

Lionel Messi trying to get the better of Sheridan in a recent Champions League clash. Source:
The former Ballieborough Shamrocks GAA player was frank in every answer he gave to the questions he was asked, even when it came to the issue of his current isolation from the international set-up. Maybe he knew how short the segment was, so he was reluctant to go into too much detail with his answers. Or maybe he really just believes his career to date is nothing much to boast about. Boasting, maybe not. To be proud of? Why shouldn't he be? 

Sheridan netted three times in the Champions League this season, all three goals coming in the preliminary rounds - two-legged ties against Finnish side HJK Helsinki (two goals, one in each leg) and Danish champions Aalborg BK (second leg). On top of the four qualifying games, the former Celtic striker also appeared in all six group stage matches. In total, Sheridan played 753 minutes of Champions League football in 2014/15

Yet despite the exposure of playing against Barca, Ajax and Paris St. Germain - another major club APOEL almost upset; they narrowly lost 1-0 home and away with a relative unknown, Edison Cavani, the difference in both games - the novelty of having Sheridan on the Soccer Republic segment, when compared with Damien Duff's appearance the previous week, was unfortunately in the 'reminding people he still exists' category. 

This inadvertently demeans the player himself. The chap probably has some unbelievable stories from his globe-trotting career so far, but a four minute segment isn't the best place to really examine the intricacies of such a career (nor was it the point of the segment). With the progress of Irish players in the English game so important to the fortunes of our international side, Irish players further abroad are often just forgotten about, even though they are probably the ones with the best tales to tell. If Sheridan ever gets around to writing an autobiography, I'll be sure to pick it up.

Sheridan in action against Martín Demichelis of Argentina in 2010, the striker's last international appearance. Both players have since swapped hair styles. Source: RTÉ.ie.
The striker's last appearance on Soccer Republic was in late September where he spoke about trying to catch Martin O'Neill's eye by putting in stellar performances in the Champions League. Three Euro 2016 qualifiers and one friendly have gone by since then: Gibraltar (W7-0), Germany (D1-1), Scotland (L1-0) and USA (W4-1).

Though Sheridan appeared regularly in the Champions League, not a whisper of his name was mentioned with regard to a potential call-up for any of those games - O'Neill opting instead to pursue David McGoldrick through the granny rule to bolster his forward options. The Ipswich Town striker made his international debut in the victory over the USA at the Aviva Stadium (a game in which he excelled, it must be said).

A 35-man provisional squad for the Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland at the end of March was announced last week, with McGoldrick one of eight forwards listed. Alongside him are Boys in Green skipper Robbie Keane; the bang in form Daryl Murphy; the not so in form Shane Long; the injury concern Jon Walters; the old reliable at international level Kevin Doyle; the honest grafter Simon Cox; and the former Shelbourne youth team striker Anthony Stokes. 

Though not all of those options are either in form or consistent goalscorers over a period of time, neither is Sheridan: at time of writing, he has 16 goals from 69 games for APOEL and has never scored more than ten league goals in a season at any club in his professional career (he got ten with Kilmarnock in 2012/13, but one of those was in the Scottish Cup against Queen of the South - sorry Shero). Yet he is capable of notching important goals. 

As well as his Champions League strikes, Sheridan netted the goals which helped secure APOEL a first league and cup double since 1996 last season: he scored the second goal in a 2-0 win over Ermis Aradippou in the Cypriot Cup final, before netting the only goal of the game against AEL Limassol ten days later to secure the league title on the final day (sure, the result of the game against AEL was scrubbed and awarded as a 3-0 default win to APOEL in a bizarre ruling by the Cypriot Football Association which didn't affect the destination of the title, but Shero didn't know that was going to happen at the time).

Sheridan nets the goal which originally clinched the 2013/14 Cypriot title for APOEL (at 0:46). Source: APOEL FC YouTube channel.

All that said, the possibility of Sheridan winning a fourth Ireland cap looks increasingly remote - his last appearance in a green shirt came against Argentina in 2010. Once APOEL were inevitably eliminated from European competition, Sheridan's association with the Irish sporting public was all but eradicated for another season at least - a factor which the striker readily admitted on Soccer Republic has affected his chances of forcing his way back into the international reckoning. That and the fact that Martin O'Neill apparently doesn't know he's only 26.

"A lot of people don't know that I'm only 26! A lot of the lads here joke about it," replied Sheridan when O'Donoghue informed him that O'Neill had recently stated he was looking to blood younger players who were available for selection. "Obviously I'm always going to be available. Maybe I'm not in such a strong position now as I was maybe in September, October time when I was in the Champions League and stuff..."

When reminded by O'Donoghue of the oft-repeated fact that he was the only Irishman to play in the Champions League this season, Sheridan was forthright in his reply:

"Yeah, I was. I'm not anymore. And when I was, I wasn't getting picked [for Ireland] so I'm not really sure how it's going to change now when I'm not playing in it. It's not a right for me to expect to be in the national team, it's always going to be an honour. So it's not something you can decide and choose when you play. I'm always going to be available, obviously, so that's really it from me."

"He looks like the Messiah. He plays like him too." Source:
Sheridan deserves praise for being brave enough to pursue a football career beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. He did so not for the money or, as some may cynically suggest, because he couldn't find a club willing to take him in the UK - he did so because it suits his personality and because he enjoys seeing different places and experiencing new cultures.

"Well, at the minute I'm very happy here [at APOEL]," Sheridan replied when asked by O'Donoghue about his next career move. "Hopefully I can sort out my contract here soon. But in terms of being in a rush to get back to the UK, I'm not really. I enjoy travelling, living in different countries, outside of [my] comfort zone."

More power to him, and one thing is for certain: Cillian Sheridan is a certainly a maverick worth following (on Twitter, at the very least).

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