Dublin – The Class of 95
UNIVERSALLY accepted wisdom about cruciate ligament injuries says that there’s no particularly good time to get one.
There are, however, worse moments than others. Ask Jack Sheedy.
He did his in May of 1995.
And yet despite not playing a minute for Dublin that summer, the memory of Sheedy is of a central figure in that group, even if he has no medal to prove it.
His was one of the names John O’Leary called out in his acceptance speech, cited as part of their movement, if not an active participant on the day itself.
Paul Curran summoned him from the steps of the Hogan Stand that afternoon too. But an internal ennui persuaded Sheedy to stay where he was.
"I felt a big part of it in ways," he says now. "But probably there was a sense of detachment on the day.
"I walked down the pitch afterwards and met supporters and players and it meant everything. But at the same time, there was a slightly hollow feeling about it."
God knows Sheedy served his time.
An equal parts powerful and reliable presence for Dublin in the first half of the nineties, Sheedy’s first exposure to the setup was actually in 1984, albeit he made a major faux pas that would delay his debut for seven years.
"I played a match with the club rather than lining out in a challenge match for Dublin," he recalls of his first, brief incarnation as a Dublin player.
"That was something you just didn’t do with Kevin Heffernan. I wasn’t as au fait with him at the time as I was subsequently. But that was it," adds Sheedy.
So he played at junior level for Dublin, captaining them to an All-Ireland final in 1987, when they lost to Cork.
It took until 1991 for Sheedy’s senior debut at the ripe old age of 27.
As it happened, the occasion was the first chapter of the epic with Meath that held the nation agog.
"The most amazing, enthralling, fantastic (pick any word you like) event in the whole history of Gaelic football," as journalist Paddy Downey wrote at the time.
It was, as Sheedy notes, a more innocent time. But his experience of the saga is all the richer for having lived it both on and off the pitch.
"You weren’t as cut off as players are now," he explains. "You got a sense of how real it was because players were far more normal, for want of a better word, than they are now.
"There was less segregation, I suppose. You spent more time with your club than inter-county players do now and you socialised much more than players do now.
"There was more freedom for players in those days. So you were getting a good sense of what people were seeing and feeling in between those matches.
"There is more of a detachment from that nowadays."
Detachment from the experience of losing to such bitter rivals after four games would surely have been a welcome condition.
In the final seconds of injury time in the fourth match, Dublin were awarded a 60-yard free. Sheedy drove it wide.
"There were guys who took it really, really badly," he recalls.
"It played on them for a long time after. That sense of defeat. The sense of loss. It crushed them.
"Some players just deal with defeats and disappointments differently and just went on and got on with it.
"I know it took a while. But a lot of other teams, had they been beaten in the circumstances we were in 1991, they would have folded."
That was only the beginning of Dublin’s suffering.
Sheedy was midfield a year later, when Dublin lost an All-Ireland final to a Donegal team they had criminally underrated.
In 1993, Sheedy again was a central player in the team that lost by a single point (0-15 to 0-14) to Derry in the All-Ireland semi-final.
A year later? A losing All-Ireland finalist again. This time to Down.
As runs of misfortune go, Dublin’s in the first half of the nineties is up there with anything Mayo have produced. They endured all the same repeated and excruciating heartbreak without any of the national acclaim.
"It was looking decidedly dodgy at that stage, that we weren’t going to win one," he notes.
And yet those added to the panel in 1995 say there was no atmosphere of regret or preoccupation with the past hanging in the dressing-room they walked into.
"There was a great core of players in that squad that really drove everything," Sheedy explains.
"We never really had discussions about things we hadn’t done in the past or where we went wrong. We just got on with it.
"Collectively, there was a phenomenal desire to succeed in that group of Dublin players. There was a determination there. There was a commitment to getting the job done."
May of 1995 had started particularly well for Sheedy. In fact, the weekend he suffered his cruelly-timed injury had begun in celebratory fashion.
On the Friday, he was part of the Lucan Sarsfields team that beat St Vincent’s after a replay to lift the club back into the senior ranks.
That night and all of Saturday was spent in the customary, post-Championship winning fashion.
On Sunday, Dublin were playing Meath in a challenge match in Moynalvey.
Early in the second half, Sheedy caught a kick-out uncontested.
When he landed, his knee buckled.
"Pat (O’Neill) looked at it," he recalls.
"I went on Monday for further examination and it was a 75 per cent tear in the cruciate. The options were go for surgery and get it done then or get into the gym for a period of time and build up the quad muscles and the muscles around it to support it and see if I could carry it."
Being so close to summer, Sheedy opted for the heal and hope route.
The knee stabilised until eight days before the Leinster final, when he turned sharply in an As v Bs match.
Pop went his knee. Pop went his summer.
"I never thought I wouldn’t go to training after the injury," he says now.
"So while I was rehabbing, I was there with the lads, pretty much every session.
"That continued on. I helped out in any way I could. Water bottles. Bits of encouragement from the sideline. Anything at all."
He was there, water bottle in hand, on the day Dublin beat Tyrone to put an end to their suffering.
But despite being part of the squad in 1996, he never played in blue and navy again.
And his role with the squad in 1995 went unrewarded with a Celtic Cross.
"If the current chairman or the chairmen who were around the last 10 or 15 years had been there in ’95, the whole squad would have got one," Sheedy reckons now.
"It would be nice to have one as a memento of the whole time.
"I thought it might have happened. I thought there might have been exceptions made.
"Dermot Deasy was in the same position. It would have been nice if a little bit of appreciation had been shown at the time.
"But that was not something that was extended by the person who was there at the time."
"That’s just the way it is," Sheedy adds. "If you don’t have one, you don’t have one."
Don't miss part two of Dublin – The Class of '95 free with next Friday's Herald and on Independent.ie.