Friday 24 November 2017

Sherlock says goodbye to the Hill

Jason Sherlock's Dublin career never again reached the heights of 1995 when he burst on to the scene to help the county lift the Sam Maguire.
Jason Sherlock's Dublin career never again reached the heights of 1995 when he burst on to the scene to help the county lift the Sam Maguire.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

One statistic is sure to have emboldened Pat Gilroy now that Jason Sherlock's 15-year inter-county career has effectively been brought to an end.

In each of the last three years that Dublin have exited the football championship, twice through humiliating quarter-final defeats to Tyrone and Kerry and a far more respectable semi-final loss to Kerry, Sherlock has ended the days watching on from the sidelines.

Last August his removal was more than a tad hasty. Dublin were swamped in every other area of the field by a rampant Kerry, but it was Sherlock who was sacrificed from corner-forward to make way for Pat Burke and a different strategy completely after 24 minutes. That has now transpired to be his last bow in Sky Blue.


Twelve months earlier he had been third off in the collapse against Tyrone, making way for Mark Vaughan after failing to continue making the impact from centre-forward that had marked his Leinster championship campaign.

Sherlock had been a rejuvenated figure for much of that summer until Tyrone exploded in Dublin's faces. He more than anyone paid the price.

In 2007 Dublin were still giving chase to Kerry when he was hauled from the action 41 minutes in to be replaced by Ray Cosgrove.

The recurring theme of substitution over the last three years can only point to one conclusion: when the going got to its toughest pitch at the critical points of Dublin's season, he wasn't able to go with it. Others have fallen into the same category but, at 34, Sherlock is the easiest target.

And so Dublin's last playing link with their last All-Ireland success 15 years ago is gone.

Pat Gilroy has some 20 or so names for his squad and is expected to add another 12 in the next couple of days before it becomes public knowledge. But Sherlock has already been informed that he is not and won't be one of those names and is not part of the plans.

No doubt he has been told that his club form will continue to be monitored, but after whipping over four points for St Oliver Plunkett's Eoghan Ruadh in a recent senior championship match, even that platform is unlikely to offer a route back to inter-county football.

His departure is sure to provoke more memories than debate. If Dublin are to rebuild it has to be with pretty much a clean slate and Gilroy has recognised that.

No one in Dublin can ever fault Sherlock's service or commitment to the Dublin cause in the 15 years since he first illuminated the Dublin dressing-room.

And illuminate he did, not just in Dublin but across the country. At a time when Gaelic football was suffering, he provided star quality.

He played with fearless abandon, unperturbed by the dangers that lurked in the hard environment of mid-1990s Gaelic football.

But 1995, his debut year when he mixed it up so well with Dublin's hardened veterans of two previous All-Ireland final defeats, was not a sign of things to come for Sherlock.

For the next four years his impact was minimal, not what the trailer suggested it would be. A return of just one point between 1996 and '99 was a malaise that prompted the automatic assumption that he was a 'one-hit wonder'. Nothing galls a sportsman more than that bland assumption.

Sherlock was persistently linked with a career in soccer in those years and it wasn't until that storyline dissipated from the back pages that he was able to focus fully on Gaelic football.

He also appeared uncomfortable with the early celebrity bestowed on him by the suddenness of his arrival. He wanted to be sportsman first and an icon... well not at all.

Sherlock went far on limited resources. He wasn't the biggest, he didn't possess blinding speed and the strength of his kicking for scores failed him badly in the first half of his career. But he had a consummate football brain and a heart to match it.

He has lived with some sharp criticism of his game but has always worked off his strengths, which were intelligent movement and distribution. But as a forward who spent as much time in the full-forward line as he did as a half-forward, more was expected on the scoreboard.

Maybe it's too harsh an analysis to suggest that against Dublin's greatest rivals he didn't always cut it. Scoring wasn't the sum of his parts and his returns shouldn't be held as the ultimate indictment against him.

That being said, in five starts against Kerry he scored just 1-2 while seven starts and one appearance as a sub against Meath realised just 0-3.

There were days when he threatened to run riot against opposing defences. On one of Dublin's darkest days of recent times -- the 2004 Leinster quarter-final defeat to Westmeath when the then-manager Tommy Lyons ran the gauntlet of abuse afterwards -- he was a revelation with four points.

Lyons had actually not been taken with him in his first year in charge, 2002, holding him in reserve for all six championship games.

In all, Sherlock played 62 times for Dublin but almost one third of those appearances, 18 to be precise, were as a substitute.

There are many who would ascertain that Jason Sherlock never lived up to his billing and that's a fair point. But his most admirable feature has been his willingness to persist until he wasn't wanted anymore. That commitment shouldn't be forgotten.

Irish Independent

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