Dublin – The Class of 95
THE best comparison he can draw now, relatively speaking, is Shane O’Donnell.
Before the 2013 All-Ireland hurling final replay, there was no Shane O’Donnell. At least not in the collective Irish sporting consciousness.
For a short while afterwards, there was only Shane O’Donnell.
GAA-wise, hurling-wise, it was all Shane O’Donnell, all the time.
One game. Three goals. Instant stardom.
That’s the thing about All-Ireland finals – they resonate.
Yet as a modern equivalence for ‘Jayomania’, the Beatlemania subplot to Dublin’s All-Ireland win of 1995, even that doesn’t quite fit.
The angle of their trajectories might have been roughly similar but the scale is off.
O’Donnell, on one bewitching Saturday evening in September, 2013 transposed himself from Clare panel member to All-Ireland winning hero.
But the circumstances of Jason Sherlock’s arrival ensure that his fame is much more permanent.
Even now, 25 years on from that intoxicating summer, he remains a cult figure for Dublin GAA folk and more recognisible outside his own county than almost any footballer or hurler of the past quarter of a century.
Like all cultural phenomena, the explanation is layered.
In 1995, he was boyishly young, explosive and different. He provided a summer of TV moments, each one catapulting him higher into the sporting/celebrity stratosphere.
The stocking-footed goal against Laois. Kissing referee, Pat Casserly, on the cheek in the Leinster final victory over Meath.
Leaving Cork’s Mark O’Connor for dead in the All-Ireland semi-final.
And in the end, after so many traumas, Dublin stood at football’s highest podium resplendent for just an instant.
It was enough.
"People remember moments," Sherlock agrees now, from the vantage point of 25 years of reflection.
"There was a whole mix of things. Dublin had been in so many finals in the previous years, so the team was high-profile already.
"There was my age. How I played. How I looked."
There were four weeks between the All-Ireland semi-final, when he scorched the earth for that goal against Cork, and the final against Tyrone.
In between, there was no actual football to scrutinise and the more his fearless display against Cork lingered in the psyche of the GAA-consuming public, the more he became the focal point for a Dublin team already bursting with character.
Meanwhile, the song ‘Boom Boom Boom (Let Me Hear You Say Way-ooh!)’ by Illinois-based hip-hop duo The Outhere Brothers, with its convenient rhyme (Jayo!) stayed at number one in the Irish singles chart for four weeks.
On the evening of Dublin’s pre-All-Ireland press night/meet the fans, the event had to be abandoned when Sherlock was mobbed, Boyzone-style, by young admirers who had made the journey to Páirc Naomh Uinsionn.
"It was like a perfect storm," as he notes now.
As formative experiences go then, Sherlock’s was both abrupt and extreme.
Now, he has come to all the conclusions about ’95 he is ever likely to.
Over the past three years, he has written an autobiography and also contributed to a documentary made by RTÉ about that frenzied time in his life.
"It was cathartic," he admits.
"Not just from a sporting point of view, but from a life point of view for me.
"The summer of ’95 had a big bearing on my life, so I have reflected back on that a lot."
Any fresh revelations?
"I suppose I’m filled with a lot of gratitude," he explains.
"I was very lucky to arrive at a stage with Dublin … obviously there was a lot of hurt from what had gone on before … but they were open to welcoming in a young kid.
"I was 19 years of age that summer. To have a kid – ten-and-a-half stone – thrown in there in an All-Ireland final … whatever about me, they took a big leap of faith.
"I’d give the management and players a lot of credit that they were willing to accept that."
Acceptance is a strong theme in Sherlock’s book, ‘Jayo’.
In it, he narrates through years of harbouring a sense of being different due to his multi-ethnic background and appearance, an experience that cultivated a strong yearning to simply be seen as the same as anyone else.
Playing for Dublin granted him a sense of belonging.
That he was welcomed into a dressing-room filled with confident, ambitious, some brash characters even – the same men he had idolised in his earlier teenage years – made it doubly satisfying.
"These guys were heroes to me because of who they were and their stature in the game," he notes.
"But it wasn’t a case of everyone feeling that they had to like each other or love each other. It was only about respecting each other and doing whatever was required."
"Which is not the norm now. Now it’s all about your culture and understanding where everyone is coming from.
"Back then it was more, fellas who were very strong-minded led the thing."
He admits now to not initially expecting big things from the summer of ’95.
The previous winter, Sherlock and Ian Roberston, both members of the ’94 minor team, had been asked by Dublin management to train with the senior squad for two weeks prior to the All-Ireland final.
He made his League debut against Kerry, an event that attracted little attention and did enough over the span of the rest of the competition to feel like he was prominent in Pat O’Neill’s thoughts by the time summer warmed up.
"It was rare around that time that one team would have a total dominance on Leinster," he recalls.
"So personally, I thought it would be surprising if Dublin won four in a row against Meath. That was nothing to do with the team. It was more to do with how I thought about it as a supporter.
"So I didn’t have much expectation about winning an All-Ireland or anything like that. It was all novel. I literally went from preparing to play against Liverpool (in a friendly with UCD) to training with Dublin, three weeks before a Leinster championship."
What followed has been rehashed and revisited a million times but it remains a remarkable tale: a 19-year-old briefly transcending the popularity of his own team and perhaps even his own sport.
For their part, the GAA stand indicted of not only failing to harness and market Sherlock’s unique appeal, but treating him with suspicion and in some cases, hostility.
As for the football, Sherlock can be as analytical about that summer as any of the other 15 seasons he played with Dublin.
The accepted short-hand for his contribution is that he provided a rawness, an unpredictability, to the Dublin attack they had possibly been lacking through their near misses of the previous years.
"I had my moments," he reckons. "There were moments that were significant to the games. And I’m very happy with that because I did contribute to the thing.
"In my head, that’s enough."
The next 15 years brought no more All-Irelands. Sherlock changed as a footballer, fell in and out with different managers and slogged through a time of great oscillation in Dublin’s fortunes.
He also receded from public life.
Having once co-presented a TV show on RTÉ, later he rarely engaged with the Gaelic games media.
The excessive and unwanted attention he received in the years immediately after 1995 had forced a reconsideration of his priorities.
"There was a realisation point during my playing career where I asked ‘what is important to me?’ And what was important to me was to be the best footballer I could," he explains now.
"Once I had that clarity, it was very easy to make decisions about what was important and what’s not.
"Was having a quote in a newspaper making me a better footballer?
"And,” he goes on, "there was a lot of, it was my perception of how, when things were going well, I’d get a lot of the credit, but when they weren’t, I certainly got my fair share of the blame."
If his time in blue had a disappointing end, when Pat Gilroy jettisoned him from the panel in 2010, his involvement with Dublin on Jim Gavin’s five in-a-row coaching ticket was naturally been a thrill.
Though he had an even lower profile during that time, Sherlock was effectively given free rein to run the Dublin attack after their defeat to Donegal in 2014.
They haven’t lost a Championship match since and evolved into the most tactically versatile team in the country during that period.
"It wasn’t in the game-plan, as such," he recalls. "In my head, I had started the process of reflection and trying to assess what had gone on and trying to establish something that would frame my future.
"A small part of that was giving back to Dublin football.
"That had started with coaching the development squad. But in terms of coaching the Dublin senior football team, that’s down to Jim. It wasn’t in the game-plan until he rang."
He and Gavin and the rest of the team of ’95 were supposed to be on a golf trip around now and already, they’ve had to cancel a banquet to mark their jubilee season.
As things stand, they may not get their wave in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day yet having lived together through that summer, with all the glitz and pressure and its happy ending, means their bond remains strong, even if they don’t see as much of one another as Sherlock would like.
"That’s why we play sport," he notes.
"For those little pockets of success that you have. And for us, that’s our common bond.
"I’ve been on many teams that haven’t won, that haven’t had the glue of winning to keep them together in the years afterwards.
"So we’ll always have that. And I’m extremely grateful."
Don't miss part two of Dublin – The Class of '95 free with next Friday's Herald and on Independent.ie.