Saturday 21 January 2017

Sinead Kissane: Finish line not in sight for country's busiest inter-county star Bryan Sheehan

Country's busiest inter-county star hoping his club year extends all the way to St Stephen's Day in Kerry's never-ending season

Published 05/12/2015 | 02:30

Resting on the shoulders of his South Kerry team-mates, Bryan Sheehan raises the Bishop Moynihan Cup after the team’s victory over Legion in the Kerry SFC final replay last month
Resting on the shoulders of his South Kerry team-mates, Bryan Sheehan raises the Bishop Moynihan Cup after the team’s victory over Legion in the Kerry SFC final replay last month

"He just walks back, hands on hips, has a look at the ball, has a look at the posts, has another look at the ball. And then he takes his hands off the hips, comes up and he's followed through, he's like a golfer. And he's shot that one straight through over the black spot. An absolutely superb point."

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That piece of commentary came courtesy of Radio Kerry's legendary broadcaster Weeshie Fogarty. The kick was all Bryan Sheehan's.

It would be easy to imagine that Fogarty's description of Sheehan's point came from a championship game for Kerry with the sun at Sheehan's back and the heat shimmering in a full house at Fitzgerald Stadium.

But that commentary came from a wintry afternoon in Killarney last Saturday. It was ticking into the last quarter of the Munster club IFC final between St Mary's and Carrigaline of Cork when Sheehan stepped up, stuck to his routine and struck another point.

Wrapped

Straight after, Sheehan's midfield partner Denis Daly scored a goal which as good as wrapped up the win.

And for the first time since he started this autumn/winter run of consecutive games, Sheehan said he started to struggle with tiredness. It was, after all, his 10th weekend in a row playing for either St Mary's or divisional team South Kerry.

It's been a never-ending season which keeps on giving.

This is meant to be the time of year when inter-county players have their feet up and enjoy something resembling a normal life. This is meant to be a time of hibernation, when players are allowed to ditch the shots of spirulina and allow themselves the treat of drinking pints of full-fat milk while gorging on endless episodes of Narcos.

Instead Sheehan has been doing his own version of wintering well. Two weeks ago in the county final replay against Legion, South Kerry were trailing by six points in the second half and playing poorly when the Radio Kerry commentary started to hit fever pitch.

"Coming through like a tank in the middle is Sheehan. Still Bryan Sheehan. He might go for glory. It's still Sheehan. Sheeeeeehhhaaaaaan. What a goal from Bryan Sheehan," commentator Gary O'Sullivan enthused.

"Brilliant goal by Bryan Sheehan. He ran on and took the return pass. He went through. He held the ball. He was going to shoot, he didn't shoot. And then he came on and hit an absolute rocket of a shot low into the net," Fogarty added.

Sheehan was man of the match that day. When I asked him this week if he has scored in every one of those games over the past few months, he reckoned he scored in most of them but that's only because he's the free-taker. You see, he has been the free-taker, the midfielder and also the captain for two teams.

Sheehan is not one to boast. So let me do it for him. Leading St Mary's to the Munster Intermediate title last Saturday was Sheehan's second medal in six days - he captained South Kerry to county final success after beating Legion in the replay after extra-time.

Overall, it was his third medal in just over a month after St Mary's won the county intermediate final in October. Altogether, Sheehan has been on the go for 11 weeks in a row when you include the All-Ireland final.

If the best way to get over someone is by keeping busy, then the best way for Sheehan to get over the All-Ireland final defeat was to keep playing. Every weekend since Kerry lost to Dublin on September 20, Sheehan has had a match to fill his thoughts.

"We just didn't perform on the day," Sheehan admits. "We were just gutted. And you can use all the excuses that you want - the tactics, the weather, the grass. But we were beaten by a Dublin team who were hungrier than us."

Being one of the most skilful free-takers in the country hasn't given Sheehan a free pass into the Kerry team. His preferred position is midfield because "it gives you the freedom to travel and there are extra responsibilities as well".

For the Munster final replay against Cork in Killarney this year, Sheehan was switched from midfield to the 40. He said he was "bitterly disappointed" to lose his place in the team for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone. He remained as a sub for the final.

So how did Sheehan react to being benched? Did he have it out with Eamonn Fitzmaurice?

"You would have a quiet word with Eamonn alright in private," Sheehan says. "But you just try to prove him wrong the next time."

Sheehan hasn't watched the All-Ireland final back. He hasn't had the time. But maybe a part of him just isn't ready to look at it again.

The run of club games helped get Sheehan out of a funk. His club St Mary's are managed by his boyhood hero Maurice Fitzgerald.

Throughout our conversation, Sheehan was quick to point out his team-mates: the six other St Mary's players who are on the South Kerry panel and who have played just as much football as he has, and the talent of his inter-county team-mates, especially the midfielders.

But the admiration in his voice hits a new level when he speaks about Fitzgerald.

It was Fitzgerald who made Sheehan captain of St Mary's last year because he didn't want him to miss out on winning a title with the club as a skipper like Fitzgerald himself had. Fitzgerald doesn't pile the expectation on Sheehan just because he's a Kerry player.

Passionate

"He doesn't put pressure on me and doesn't expect me to lift the whole team. He's just letting me enjoy the football," Sheehan explains. "The time that he gives us is massive. He's just so passionate about the game."

Sheehan laughs as he tries to remember if he picked up the hands-on-the-hips stance from Fitzgerald.

"When I was younger I used to go kicking with Maurice when he was practising his kicking," Sheehan recalls.

"Nowadays, I like to practise my kicking and free-kicking on my own - that just allows me to stay in my own head with no distractions.

"If I stay back after training he'd often kick out a few balls to me, but more often than not he's out kicking with me, 'bit of a kicking competition' and he might get his son Muiris to kick a few balls out to us."

Sheehan doesn't entertain any questions about the Kerry captaincy next year. Since South Kerry won the county final, whichever club wins the South Kerry championship has the honour of nominating the captain for 2016.

Next weekend the South Kerry championship starts and Sheehan will be in action again. If St Mary's - who, incidentally, played a Kerry SFL Division 2 game on Wednesday night - reach the final, then their season will extend all the way to St Stephen's Day.

It's been a never-ending season for Sheehan, in a season he may never want to end.

Irish Independent

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