Tuesday 23 May 2017

Meath native wants to show Ulster what Oyonnax are about

Eamonn Sheridan
Eamonn Sheridan
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When the Champions Cup draw was made last June, it's likely that a few eyebrows were raised when Ulster were pitted in the same pool as Oyonnax.

The French club, the smallest in the Top14, is based in the Rhône-Alpes region in eastern France.

Oyonnax are not a household name of European rugby and Eamonn Sheridan admits that he didn't know a lot about them before he signed last March.

The former Leinster player saw his two-year spell with London Irish come to an end but a move to France was the "perfect fit".

At 6ft 4in and 108kg, the 26-year-old is well-equipped to deal with the physical demands of the Top14 and now that he feels he has found his feet in his new surroundings, he is eager to help push Oyonnax forward.

Sheridan spent four years in the Leinster academy and made three Pro12 appearances before moving to England, where the inside centre had a season in the Championship with Rotherham before London Irish snapped him up.

The Meath native had become a regular at Irish but he was unable to agree terms of a new contract and made the move to France.

"There are no hard feelings. I enjoyed my time there but at the end of the day, Irish had to look after their interests and I had to do the same," Sheridan said.

"When the offer from France came, it was difficult to turn down. The Top14 is becoming harder and harder to get into so it was a no-brainer really.

"You're playing against the best players in the world and you can see that by the ones who are joining the league after the World Cup. Everyone wants to play in the Top14 nowadays."

Oyonnax may not have the spending power of Toulon, Toulouse, Clermont or any of the French giants but a sixth-place finish last season was good enough for them to qualify for the Champions Cup for the first time.

It is a club that is developing and Sheridan, who since scoring a try on his debut has gone on to play in all eight of Oyonnax's Top14 games thus far, is excited to be at the fulcrum.

"I knew I had to sell myself to the club as much as they had to sell it to me because they don't want players just coming here for a holiday," he stressed.

"The club wants guys who are going to help bring the club forward and that's why I'm here.

"The supporters are very passionate. If you play a bad game at the weekend, people aren't afraid to come up to you on the street and let you know about it and likewise if you play well."

Sheridan was always built for rugby and despite having trials with the Meath minor footballers, his path was destined for the oval ball. This meant that he didn't follow in the footsteps of his cousin Joe, who infamously broke Louth hearts in the 2010 Leinster final by scoring a goal that was more akin to something Eamonn would do on a rugby pitch.

"Joe actually played his first ever rugby game for Athboy recently and asked me for some tips. He's shown already that he's hard to stop from five metres so that might have counted in his favour," he laughed.

Ulster will arrive in Oyonnax on Saturday facing into something of the unknown but for a proud club, their first Champions Cup game at home is going to be a special occasion, according to Sheridan.

The game will be shown live on Sky Sports which will heighten the focus and it means that Sheridan will get to showcase himself to the Irish public again.

"It's huge for the town. It's a big chance for the club to put themselves on the map.

"Not a lot of people in Ireland will know about us and we know that facing Ulster is a huge challenge.

"I'll prepare the same way as I do for every game but it's definitely an added bonus having all my friends and family being able to watch the game on TV.

"It'll probably be on in my local rugby club in Navan, too. The chance to play against an Irish team is always exciting."

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