Master of re-invention Sheridan stakes his Royal claim
Meath forward well used to being on the margins trying to impress a new manager, writes Colm Keys
JOE SHERIDAN had scarcely pressed the slip of paper into the possession of the fourth official to formalise his arrival into last week's Leinster quarter-final in Aughrim when he found himself racing out to the sideline to gather up Kevin Reilly's crossfield kick driven hard in the wind that was blowing into Meath's faces.
Just outside the 45-metre line, tight by the sideline on what was technically the wrong side for a predominantly right-footed kicker, the logical option for Sheridan would have been to check back inside and see what else was on.
Sheridan's instinct was to turn outside, however, use his strength to push on past Ciaran Hyland and swing over quite a spectacular point to give Meath a 1-16 to 1-11 lead and certainty of passage to the semi-finals.
But even the decision to 'go it alone' from the position he found himself in will have divided opinion among Meath supporters, the nature of the territory he routinely finds himself in.
Ruling out all other options from the moment he got possession was however, he conceded, designed to make "a statement".
"You try and put a bit of a statement down when you come on and show the lads why you should be playing and that's what I was hoping to do," he admitted.
"All you can do is work hard at training and push on because there is a lot of competition there at the minute. The lads have their ideas and you have just got to go with it. If you can keep pushing, hopefully you get your chance."
Not for the first time in his career, Sheridan finds himself having to convince a new management team that he can fit into their plans and that he can adjust to different styles of play.
Each time, he has managed to prove his worth. When Eamonn O'Brien took over for the 2009 league campaign, Sheridan made the starting 15 for the opening league game against Cork but was peripheral for the remaining games in the campaign.
One night in Navan against Laois, his younger brother Brian was introduced as a substitute ahead of him despite having played for the county's U-21 team earlier in the day.
For the opening championship match against Dublin, he was Meath's final throw of the dice, given just a couple of tail-end minutes in which he stitched enough doubt in opposition minds to open doors with Meath again.
When they beat Mayo in an All-Ireland quarter-final a couple of months later, Sheridan walked off with four points and the man of the match award.
In Seamus McEnaney's second season, Sheridan also found himself on the periphery, coming off the bench for the first four appearances before emigrating to Boston.
By championship time, he was back, however, and central to the plans as they progressed to the last 12.
Reacting to adverse situations has been a strength for him. For three weeks after that infamous 2010 Leinster final when he bundled that late goal over the line to snatch victory from Louth, he was in the eye of the storm but responded with two of the best points kicked in Croke Park all summer during the opening half against Kildare in the subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final.
New management has come in again and Sheridan finds himself on the margins once more, trying to get his footwork right on the carousel again.
A start in the opening game, a crushing defeat to Monaghan, but involvement limited to being fourth and fifth substitute after that.
When a number of players, his long-time attacking colleague Cian Ward included, were released from the squad the day after the Division 3 league final defeat to Monaghan, there was even some speculation that Sheridan could be part of the cull. "That's the manager's decision. They've come in and assessed the whole squad from last year and brought in lads as well.
"New lads have been brought in. Not just Cian, but the likes of Jamie Queeney and Shane McAnarney have been fantastic servants to Meath football but the lads have come in with their own ideas. That's what we're going with.
"We're happy enough to drive it with a new squad, to look ahead. It's amazing how fresh the place is with new lads coming in.
"It's amazing how old you feel with all these young lads around. I'm only 29."
The point against Wicklow was a tug of the sleeve then, a reminder that, at 29, he still has much to offer.
"We've had different managers coming in so, as they say, doctors differ, patients die. That's the way they look at it. You've got to be able to come in and give the managers what they want. They'll tell you what to do and you have just got to do it.
"You have that bit of bite to you when you are left aside for a while. You have to look at reinventing or looking at where you have to work on, it just makes you a better player."
He spent just six weeks in Boston last spring before agreeing to return and take up a coaching post for the summer.
Now a sales representative with Acorn Life, he is content that his life is more settled.
"I decided it was either I stay away last year and try and get it sorted out but I said if I was coming back I was going to make sure I wasn't going again.
"Looking down the line, football doesn't pay the bills. You have to concentrate on that. That's one thing I said when I came back. I'm going to have to do that for myself."