Saturday 3 December 2016

Sheriff eager to get back on horse with Exiles

Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30

Eoin Sheriff still harbours hopes of playing for Ireland
Eoin Sheriff still harbours hopes of playing for Ireland

After making his Saracens breakthrough last year, this season couldn't have gone much worse for Eoin Sheriff.

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The former Leinster second-row had to bide his time before being given his chance but when it came, he seized it with both hands.

Sheriff impressed from the bench in Sarries' Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Ulster last season and also shone in the Premiership semi-final.

With veteran Steve Borthwick retiring at the end of that campaign, the 26-year-old had hoped to stake his claim for a regular starting berth this season.

However, a three-month loan spell with Championship side Bedford Blues was ended after three matches when he tore his calf, and two surgeries later he still isn't fully fit.

Sheriff hasn't played a single minute of rugby for his parent club this season and with his contract up at the end of this campaign, he was sweating over his next move.

That was until two weeks ago, when London Irish made him an offer that he didn't take long to accept.

PROVE

"I don't normally rush into decisions but I knew straight away that this was the right fit for me," Sheriff explains.

"I know the team, I know the league and I know what is expected of me. After the season I've had, I have a chip on my shoulder and a point to prove."

Sheriff's injury means that he won't play again for Sarries - and just like his time with Leinster, his spell in north London won't end as he would have planned.

The Wexford native, who spent a year at Blackrock College with Ian Madigan, made just one appearance for his home province, under Michael Cheika.

As a boy who grew up in Gorey, he is regularly reminded that Kilkenny College ended his Senior Cup dream in 2007 - a result that stands as one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history.

Despite the contract offer from London Irish, the frustration of this season still lingers.

"There will always be a slight sense of regret that I wasn't able to kick on with Sarries," Sheriff concedes.

"It was massively gutting. I felt I'd done well last season and really wanted to build on that and continue to prove myself.

"It was a case of one step forward and one giant backwards one. You can't let it break you, though. If anything, it should make you a stronger person.

"After Christmas last year, I was involved in most of Sarries' games. When you're involved week in, week out, you get a taste for it.

"I know the club get a lot of stick from other fans and that's fair enough, but there is a great group of players there.

"Saracens are one of Europe's top clubs and playing in front of big crowds proved to myself and probably to others that I was capable of playing at this level.

"I'm 26 and people keep telling me that I'm still young, but I'm not. I know that and I'm comfortable knowing that, but I don't have that many miles on the clock at the same time.

"I haven't played that much rugby so I'm fresh, and come next season, I fully intend on repaying the faith that Irish have shown in me."

Sheriff's two-year spell with Leinster was also blighted with injuries, and although he wishes it had worked out differently, his realistic outlook has allowed him to forge a different path.

"When I was with Leinster, it was around the time they won their first Heineken Cup and with the likes of Leo Cullen, Nathan Hines and Devin Toner all ahead of you, it was almost impossible to get game-time," he maintains.

"My last year was Joe Schmidt's first in charge. I wasn't fit enough to be given a fair crack.

"If I had been able to stay fit, it might have worked out differently. Ideally, everyone would love to play for their home province, but it doesn't always work out like that."

Getting international recognition when playing abroad brings about its own difficulties but Sheriff is adamant that when a player makes the decision to move from Ireland, they fully understand what is involved.

Nevertheless, he still dreams of pulling on an Ireland jersey, but he knows that for that to happen, his performances in the Aviva Premiership must make Schmidt and his coaching staff sit up and take note.

"I have 100pc faith in my own ability and any player that says he doesn't want to play for his country is lying.

"Sometimes you can seem close to making the breakthrough but then others it seems like a million miles away.

"I'm a very proud Irishman living in England, and playing for Ireland is always in the back of my mind but I know that won't happen without proving myself on the pitch."

UPHEAVAL

The move to a club within the same city means that it isn't a huge upheaval for Sheriff but after playing so little this season, he knows that there is extra pressure on him.

"When I first arrived in England, a lot of people doubted me and said that I didn't like the dogfight. I never agreed with them but I don't think any one can say that about me now," he says.

"I have zero regrets about moving away from home. I was a boy leaving Ireland but when you're taken out of your comfort zone, you are forced to become a man."

A new chapter of his career beckons and with his nightmare season behind him, Sheriff is more determined than ever to prove himself.

Irish Independent

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