Jayo's not yet over the hill
Darling of Dublin faithful maintains ambition of winning another All-Ireland, writes Marie Crowe
When it comes to Dublin football, Jason Sherlock has two goals. The first is for Dublin to win an All-Ireland with him involved and the second one is for Dublin to win an All-Ireland without him.
Jason Sherlock has never officially retired from inter-county football. He isn't playing for Dublin because he wasn't picked. It's as simple as that. He wants to play, though. He feels he still has something to offer the set-up, but he has spoken to Pat Gilroy and is happy that he has done everything he can to try and get on the panel.
"I don't think I won't ever win another All-Ireland," says Sherlock. "I still have that ambition as a footballer, I want to play in Croke Park and I want to win the Sam Maguire again. I'm still competitive at football and I have ambitions as a player, until that's gone out of my head I won't be willing to accept that I've played in my last All-Ireland final."
The fact that Dublin are going well definitely makes Sherlock's situation easier to accept. However, filling that void when you are no longer an inter-county footballer has been a challenge in itself.
"It's very hard not being part of it and there is no question that it's still something I'm adapting to and still something I'm trying to get used to. But I'm not the first person to get dropped off a team and I won't be the last and all I want now is for Dublin to win."
It's over 15 years since Jason Sherlock first burst onto the scene, becoming a poster boy for the GAA, winning an All-Ireland in his first season. "When we won back in 1995 it was great but in terms of pure football ability and what I contributed, it was a lot less than what the likes of Colm Cooper did last week and what he has done his whole career," he said.
"I'm realistic enough to know that a lot of it was false in a sense, I know a lot of the hype was because I looked different, I was from Dublin, I played soccer and basketball. It wasn't because I was a Peter Canavan, I was far from it, he was scoring 11 points where I didn't score in an All-Ireland final, but in saying that I'm proud enough to think that I did enough with the talents that I had."
At 19, Sherlock was in the spotlight whether he liked it or not. And there were times that it did affect him as a footballer. But Sherlock learned fast. He decided he would only do things that would help him as a footballer and help his team win. And he stayed true to that, turning down commercial opportunities and interview requests. It was all a steep learning curve for Sherlock, but all the time he worked at his game to be a better player.
The fact that Dublin have not been back in an All-Ireland final since '95 is almost impossible to fathom. Although Sherlock tries not to look back, it's impossible not to feel the hurt and in turn suffer the consequences. After so many barren years and significant losses, Dublin's reputation has suffered and they have been branded a team of mentally weak footballers who can't get over the line.
"When you lose you are fair game for all types of criticism," he admits. "In a lot of cases in the past we probably didn't deal with the situations well enough. It's hard when you're playing in front of 80,000 in Croke Park, as much as it's a great stadium it can be very isolating and it's hard to communicate when things aren't going well. It takes strong characters to come through that and we weren't strong enough to do it as a team."
He believes in this current Dublin team though. "I think that this team can do it but there will be questions asked until they do. If they are a point up in injury-time, there will be questions about their mental capacity and that's a fair accusation after everything that's happened. But I see that as part of the challenge to prove they can do it."
Today marks a major obstacle, though, in getting back to an All-Ireland final. Donegal are going to make it difficult for Dublin, making it a dogged game no matter what, and Sherlock's St Oliver Plunkett's team-mates, Alan and Bernard Brogan, hold the key.
One thing is for sure: it will be a hugely tactical game. This is a side of the game which is far more central now than when Sherlock first started out. The new breed of managers are putting together teams of fit strong players who make their sides hard to beat. They are going out more to avoid defeat, than to win.
"Whether that is right for GAA or not that's another debate," said Sherlock. "But from a manager's point of view at the moment it seems that you have to be a certain weight and a certain height and apply yourself 24/7. That seems more important than having a guy who has potentially a bit of flair or can open up a team for a goal and win you a game."
Management isn't something that Sherlock is interested in at the moment because he still sees himself as a player, but when he finishes up he may consider it. For now, he's concentrating on his club football with Plunkett's, with whom he has played for the last four years following his transfer from Na Fianna.
"I understand I was a bit different to most people who are born into a club, I played for Erins Isle and Na Fianna for a while, then I moved to play for Ballyhea in North Cork before coming back to Na Fianna again as a minor. I know people say you should have one club but that's the beauty of the GAA, it's different for everyone and it accepts you."
The decision to move from Na Fianna to Plunkett's wasn't made on a whim, Sherlock had won three Dublin championships and a Leinster club title with the Mobhi Road club. But nearly all of the guys he'd played with had moved on so much so that when he went into the dressing room, he didn't really know his team-mates.
"I asked myself two questions, was I enjoying it and did I feel I wanted to win? Both answers were no, so it didn't make any sense to stay. I met the manager, the executive board and Dessie [Farrell] to explain how I felt. None of them came back to me with a justifiable reason to stay so I didn't."
So while Dublin are on track for an All-Ireland final appearance, Sherlock is eagerly anticipating the restart of the Dublin championship, which has come to a standstill.
"We're training since January and we've played two rounds of championship and we haven't seen our inter-county footballers since April. Personally I can't see why the inter-county championship can't start in July with the games played more regularly to give the clubs the month of June to get stuff done.
"It should be up to the Dublin County Board to get matches played earlier in the year. At the moment there are 25 teams left in the Dublin senior football championship and, with respect, 15 of them wouldn't have any ambition to win it. Why would you keep them on hold for the whole summer just to play a couple of matches?"
While Sherlock has been waiting for the championship to resume, he has been making a subtle return to the spotlight with an appearance on the Sunday Game and a regular spot on FM104's Dub Hub. Even though he isn't playing for Dublin at the moment, football is a massive
part of his life. Even in his job as head of business development at the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel it's the first topic of conversation when he meets people. But one thing Sherlock has learned from his experiences with the media is to respect the players.
"Listening to pundits, I often find that they are overly critical of individual players. Sometimes the pundits dish out the criticism and it has nothing to do with the player, the comments are made just to sound funny.
"I just feel that there has to be a certain amount of responsibility on these people to take into account the amount of time and commitment players have put in and that should be respected.
"You can analyse a game, a team or a player in so many ways and do it in a respectful way. That is why I question the agenda of some of the pundits, I feel that they are doing it for their own benefit as opposed to highlighting something."
Although Sherlock understands the role the media plays in the promotion of the GAA, he doesn't feel that the onus is on the players to promote the game. It's their job to win. In the same way there is no responsibility on Donegal to play attractive football. Ultimately, Sherlock feels it's the GAA's responsibility to promote the players and the game.
He will be in Croke Park today watching the team he still wants to play for attempt to make progress and if they do he'll be happy. Either way, his goals won't change.
Sunday Indo Sport