Loan deals an investment in Sheridan's future
Celtic's Cillian Sheridan has a lot to prove, writes Seán Ryan, but time is on his side
F OR a lad who completed his Leaving Cert, Cillian Sheridan's grasp of geography leaves a bit to be desired, but he makes up for it with his analytical thought processes, and, in his football career, the latter will undoubtedly be more beneficial.
The Republic of Ireland U21 striker, who is currently on loan from Celtic at St Johnstone, spent the first half of the season on loan to Championship side, Plymouth Argyle. The South Devon experience, he explained, had some good points and some bad.
"The bad was the fact that I didn't realise how far it was from everywhere," he admitted, "while the good was the chance to play in the Championship. I know what that league is like now and I think I could play in it.
"I played a few games and did all right, then I had one bad game, was dropped and found it hard to get back because Rory Fallon came in and he started scoring. And New Zealand qualified for the World Cup so his confidence was high while mine was low. If I had got a goal, things might have been different."
Conversation with the boy from Bailieborough tends to be like that. Bring up a subject, and he can deal with it articulately and analytically.
Of going out on loan, he says: "When you're on loan you have something to prove, you are saying you shouldn't be on loan, you should be playing. I'm looking forward to going back to Celtic and playing for them again. I haven't been involved with Tony Mowbray since he took over, apart from a few training sessions."
Gaelic football was Sheridan's first love, and he didn't take soccer seriously until he was about 14 when he joined leading Dublin schoolboy club, Belvedere. "I trained with them on Saturday and played on Sunday, travelling up and down by bus on Saturday and then my mother drove me up on Sunday. It was a one-and-a-half-hour journey and it meant a 9.0am start on Sunday morning, so there were no late Saturday nights."
His dedication paid off when Sean McCaffrey selected him for the Irish U17s. "I saw he had huge potential," says the Irish coach. "He was big, good in the air, had a great football brain and a great touch."
Around the same time, Sheridan was lining out for Cavan minors, at midfield and sometimes full-forward. "I played minor for two years. When I was 16 we lost to Down by a point after a replay, and they went on to win it, so we were that close. I played again when I was 17, but in my minor year I was at Celtic."
At Belvedere, he had originally been a midfielder, but mentors Fran Pearse and Damien Byrne moved him up front, and he hasn't looked back. International recognition alerted Celtic and, after a week's trial, Willie McStay and Tommy Burns offered him a contract.
"Tommy had just overcome his first bout of cancer, and he would take sessions with the youths and also with the first team, so I had some involvement with him before he passed away."
Sheridan's progress was meteoric. "I was in the first team within six months," he recalled. "I was doing well and scoring for the youth team and the reserves, then they had some strikers injured and I was lucky enough to be brought in. It took a bit of getting used to -- the training more so than the games."
He enjoyed a good run of games and scored his share of goals. "I came on away to Manchester United and Aalborg in the Champions League, and started at home to Man U. That's the next level, and once you've experienced it, you want to get back there."
All his appearances with Celtic were under Gordon Strachan, but new boss Tony Mowbray has been content to let Sheridan gain experience on loan. It's all part of the learning process for the 21-year-old.
In analysing his own game, he doesn't spare himself: "I need to be more consistent, I need to hold the ball up better and to be stronger. I need to go to the gym more, certainly more than I do. And I should score more with my head -- I haven't scored a header for ages." Coming from someone who is 6' 3'', that's a fairly damning admission, but the start of getting something right is acknowledging the deficiency in the first place. Besides, as a tall, lanky striker, Sheridan could well be a late bloomer, in much the same way as England's Peter Crouch.
Like a lot of tall strikers, Sheridan tends to be static under the high ball, depending on his height when he should be depending on his movement and attacking the ball in the air. If he can improve in this respect, he could eventually follow another lanky legend, Niall Quinn, into the Irish No 9 jersey.
Meanwhile, his focus is clear: "My main aim is to finish the season strongly with St Johnstone, scoring goals and get people talking about me again. Hopefully then I can get back into the team at Celtic next season."
What he misses most about Celtic apparently is the service. "In most clubs you have one or two players who supply good ball, but at Celtic they are all capable of it." Strikers' reputations depend on a good supply line, and Sheridan wants to reap the benefit of that at Parkhead, and once again experience those Champions League nights.