Mercurial talents like Connolly and Sheridan bring glitter to game

Frank Roche

CERTAIN words are used to describe certain footballers. Words like "mercurial talent" and "enigmatic genius". Maybe it's the scribbling fraternity's fault that we haven't broadened our own vocabulary beyond these cliché-laden terms, but the underlying message is one of qualified endearment -- of almost damning the recipients with faint praise.

In other words, we lavish superlatives upon these footballers when in their full majestic pomp and then, one misfiring game later, lament their errant ways, almost as if they had purposely "let us down".

Two such "mercurial talents" have been in the news in recent days. One is Diarmuid Connolly, fresh from his latest beguiling hat-trick in Sky Blue. The other is Joe Sheridan, who is more likely to be found reading the Boston Globe than the Herald this evening

That's because Big Joe, as he's affectionately known, yesterday became the latest high-profile GAA emigrant to leave our shores.

Sheridan mightn't win too many popularity contests across the Louth border, but we always got the impression that GAA people in general (and not just Meath folk) instinctively like him.

That's because he can kick booming points from the middle of next week; because he can score thunderbolt goals of dazzling quality; or maybe it simply boils down to the fact that GAA fans like their stars to be swashbuckling and Big Joe, in his pomp, certainly knows how to put the 'swash' into 'buckle'.


Now it seems he will be lost to Meath for the foreseeable future. And even if there have been intimations that Seamus McEnaney favoured a move towards more mobile and hard-running forwards this season, Sheridan's departure is bad news for Meath GAA -- and all of us.

Just to underline the point, a day before his US departure, Sheridan came off the bench in Galway to fist a goal that almost rescued a draw for the Royals.

On the same afternoon, Dublin's Mister Mercurial was going goal-crazy in Croker. You could argue that this was the type of one-sided contest where opponents make everything easy for you; but that caveat cannot disguise the gilt-edged class of Connolly's three goals, or his regal foot-passing ... or the fact that when he's in this form, he makes football itself seem ridiculously easy.

Afterwards, Pat Gilroy told us all that he wants his one-time St Vincent's teammate to do this every week! Well, maybe not quite. What Gilroy craves is a greater consistency to Connolly's game but he suggested we are already seeing signs of this in his last two-and-a-half outings -- against Mayo, Laois and now Armagh.


Last year, Connolly flourished in sporadic bursts. A 1-3 haul against Laois was followed by consecutive blanks against Kildare and Wexford. Cue those magnificent seven points from play against Tyrone ... but no sooner was he being lionised then he was suffering in a Donegal strait-jacket, failing to score and then getting sent off.

That very harsh red was subsequently rescinded, affording the reprieved Dub a chance to play in the All-Ireland final -- and play his part too, because while he didn't score against Kerry, a playback of the DVD will reveal how the hard-working Connolly played a pretty significant role in the home straight.

Gilroy has always preached the mantra of honest toil for the collective cause. Likewise, though, the Dublin boss knows every champion needs a spark of creativity, so it's little wonder that he often name-checks Lionel Messi as the Utopian ideal of hard work grafted onto genius.

Now, if Connolly can unearth Messi's stellar consistency, the rest of the country might as well join Big Joe in Boston ...