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Sharry: I followed my dream

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Paul Sharry, Westmeath. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier, Round 2, Westmeath v Kerry, Cusack Park, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

Paul Sharry, Westmeath. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier, Round 2, Westmeath v Kerry, Cusack Park, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

Paul Sharry, Westmeath. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier, Round 2, Westmeath v Kerry, Cusack Park, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

THE possibility of life as a semi-professional athlete, or playing ball for free?

In this recessionary epoch where times are hard and money talks, it may seem like a pretty straightforward choice, and so it was for Paul Sharry ...

He said goodbye to Shamrock Rovers and launched into a new career in the corinthian world of Westmeath GAA.

"Money never really crossed my mind," Sharry maintains, four years on from taking the quantum leap.

"What made the decision for me was just the GAA and what it stands for. It's all the lads you've grown up with. And then the likes of Dessie Dolan, Denis Glennon, Gary Connaughton, lads that I watched when I was 14 – they were my heroes and I was getting a chance to play with them.

"When I was younger, I would never really have been watching Shamrock Rovers on TV, I would have been watching Westmeath. So it was just a dream that I wanted to follow."

Today, Sharry is the pacey centre-back who loves to attack on a buoyant Westmeath team destined for Division One. Before that, more pressing and important business beckons: this Sunday in Cusack Park, they aim to kickstart their Leinster SFC campaign with victory over the 6/1 outsiders from Carlow.

The winners advance to face Dublin – the same all-conquering rival that turned a young sub's 2009 senior championship debut into a waking nightmare.

An infectiously upbeat personality, Sharry has clearly recovered from that 27-point debacle – and more anon. But first, you wonder why soccer didn't exert a more magnetic pull on a player who had spent years being ferried between Mullingar and Dublin by obliging parents – starting off with the Cherry Orchard under-eights, eventually moving on to Shamrock Rovers where the left-back featured prominently with the club's successful reserves and also made it into Pat Scully's first team squad?

 

SUIT

"I felt that the GAA was a better suit for me because all my friends – the likes of Conor Lynam when he was playing with Westmeath, John Heslin – were lads I grew up playing with (in St Loman's) ... and I just felt more at home in the GAA so I stuck with that," says the 24-year-old.

It's not so long since Rovers were sharing a Europa League stage with Tottenham: any cause for regret?

"I had a chance to play against Sunderland with Rovers, and I was actually very unfortunate," he replies. "It was my sister's wedding the day before, so I had to go down and be very careful ... then I was getting ready to drive up the next day, and for some reason there was torrential rain and the game was called off! It was an absolute disaster.

"When it comes down to it, I had chances to do that but now I've got a chance to play out in Croke Park against Dublin and things like that."

Ah yes, the Dubs in Croker. It brings Sharry right back to June 2009 when he was sprung from the bench after 57 minutes for his SFC debut. There was no pressure, mind you, because the hosts were already beyond cruising to a 4-26 to 0-11 rout.

In the corresponding '08 semi-final, Westmeath had pushed Dublin to the brink, losing by just two points. Twelve months on, Tomás Ó Flatharta's previously upbeat regime was unravelling: they had lost all seven league games to suffer top-flight demotion and – under the new but shortlived management of Brendan Hackett – would suffer a similarly pointless fate in their 2010 Division Two campaign.

Sandwiched in between those two disastrous leagues, Sharry made his first SFC start in a home qualifier against their old Meath nemesis. This time Westmeath 'only' lost by ten points. "I was in full-forward and I just remember it was spilling rain all day (a recurring Sharry theme!) ... it was an absolute nightmare of a day."

For the team as a whole, these cumulative defeats left a legacy of self-doubt. But as underlined by this year's league promotion and their penchant for second-half comebacks, Westmeath are a different and more durable beast today.

For this, Sharry salutes manager Pat Flanagan, primarily, and also the backroom role of inspirational Paralympic champion Mark Rohan.

"He (Flanagan) would go to the end of the earth to make sure you're catered for," he enthuses. "Our belief and confidence was absolutely shattered from the last few years, so his main job was trying to build that back up and he's done a great job doing that. We have got lads that have brims of confidence coming out of them now."

As for Rohan's role, he expands: "Mark's a great guy. He came in our very first day. He brought in his two Olympic medals. He talked to us and explained when he was a young guy, he would have loved to be sitting where we were, playing for Westmeath, but because of his (motorcycle) accident he was left paralysed.

"He was saying he could have thrown the towel in but he decided not to and he applied himself to his sport. He showed us his medals, what he got out of applying himself to his sport.

"And it basically applies to everything. If you apply yourself to football, nobody can stop you."


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