Sunday 25 February 2018

Premier days still distant memories for Tony Sheridan

Tony Sheridan in action with Ian Wright in 1992.
Tony Sheridan in action with Ian Wright in 1992.
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Tony Sheridan was having a pint in his local last year when a friend approached him with a question. He had produced the teams from a Premier League match in Elland Road in October 1992, a momentous afternoon for Sheridan as a teenage member of the visiting Coventry side making his top-flight debut.

"Do you know who came off the bench for Leeds that day?" asked his pal.

Sheridan achieved a cult hero status for Shelbourne Photo: Sportsfile
Sheridan achieved a cult hero status for Shelbourne Photo: Sportsfile

"I don't," shrugged Sheridan.

"Eric Cantona," replied his mate.

That was news to Sheridan, an insight into his mindset at that juncture.

"Maybe that was my downfall," he laughs. "To be fair, I remember John Lukic was in goals for them. Chris Whyte played, Rodney Wallace, Gary McAllister, Gary Speed, Lee Chapman. But I wouldn't remember everything. It didn't bother me who was playing for them."

It was just another game of ball to the talented Dubliner, who didn't really take in the significance of being a part of the Premier League's birth. Football was changing, but it never really changed him.

He was one of 32 Irish players to participate in the season where Sky took over football and the profile of the game was altered forever. That's a significant number in contrast to today, with the opening weekend's contingent falling short of double figures.

Engaged

There were only 13 non-British or Irish players engaged in the first round of fixtures of the 1992/93 season, which offers an insight into the demographics that made it easier for home-grown performers to feature.

And maybe that explains why the players that were involved at the time were unaware that their role in that game-changing campaign would write them into the history books. That said, the hype that has accompanied the 25th anniversary has pretty much passed Sheridan by. He's surprised to be contacted.

Certainly, the Irish stars that featured on that maiden voyage have gone in a variety of different directions since then.

At one end of the scale there are household names like Roy Keane, Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton and the core of Jack Charlton's squad that went on to USA '94.

On the other, you have individuals that disappeared from sight just as quickly as they appeared. Dubliner David McDonald made a pair of appearances for Spurs against Liverpool and Arsenal, but was at Barnet two years later.

His club's youngest scorer that term was Andy Turner, an English-born teenager with Irish links that was on the fringes of Jack Charlton's squad after scoring a goal at the age of 17 years and 166 days. He would also spend the rump of his career in non-league football.

Sheridan never hit the heights that were expected of him either, although he did achieve cult hero status back home with Shelbourne, where he produced moments of brilliance which explained why manager Bobby Gould made such a big effort to get him to Coventry in the first place.

That appearance at Leeds almost never materialised because of Sheridan's chronic homesickness, which meant he was unable to settle and frequently came home with no plans to go back.

Gould rang his house one Christmas and got Sheridan's mother to pass the phone over to her son, not letting him know who was on the line.

"'Hello Tony, it's Bobby Gould,'" he recalls. "'If you don't get your arse back here in the next couple of weeks, I'm coming to get you.'"

"That was the start of it. I went back over, started playing with the youth team, then the reserves and then training with the first team that little bit more," says Sheridan.

"I do remember the build-up to that Leeds game. All Bobby said to me was that I was in the squad and to pack my stuff and come on the bus on the Friday.

"We went up, stayed the night, had a pre-match meal and still nothing was said. We were only 15 minutes from the ground when he told me I was starting."

Sheridan was pitched in for a game in front of 30,000 spectators and quickly taken out of the firing line again. He would make eight more appearances the following season - the highlight being a famous win at Highbury delivered by a Micky Quinn hat-trick - before the exit of Gould spelled bad news. By his own admission, his social habits, borne out of boredom, didn't exactly help either.

The Arsenal game pops up on the telly from time to time, a chance for his sons to see him on that stage, but he is relying on memories rather than memorabilia. His relaxed approach to his status meant there was no desire to swap shirts and have something to show for his experience in the long term.

"I never really thought about the future, to be truthful," he says. "I never thought about getting jerseys. I was watching a programme about Wayne Rooney on Netflix the other day and he had a little trophy cabinet with all of his things.

"I've a few of my League of Ireland medals, but that's it. I don't know what it was, but it just never appealed to me. I kind of regret it now that I didn't take more of an interest. I've two young lads now that might want to see those things."

Glamour was in short supply then, though, much as the money was starting to flow into the sport. Sheridan was only at the top table for the embryonic stage of that.

"I'd say the highest earner at our club was on anything from £2,000 to £3,000 per week.

"Football has gone crazy now, it's ridiculous. Now you've young kids earning at least that amount before they've even played a game and the clubs should be looking after it for them, but I don't think it happens.

"What people don't realise is that the easy part, if you're good enough, is actually getting to that level. The hard part is staying there. That's where I went wrong. Once I got to the Premier League, that was it. I felt like I didn't have to work hard any more, when the reality was the complete opposite."

It didn't sour his attitude to the game, though. There's an element of 'what could have been' to his story, but he's trying to spread the message in a positive way.

Sheridan coaches the U-9 side with Terenure Rangers and loves passing advice on to promising kids and parents.

He'd relish the opportunity to crack into the League of Ireland scene too, but he believes that it's a closed shop.

"That scene is all fellas looking after their buddies," he says. "It's all cliques. There's guys that have had four or five different jobs in the past 10 years and then there's people on the outside with plenty of knowledge that never get a chance."

There's still life in the 42-year-old's legs. Last Wednesday he took a call as he was just preparing to play a match with his local pub, The Stone Boat in Kimmage, against a rival establishment. He was planning to go out and approach it like every other match in his life, regardless of the stage.

Just another game. Now as it always was.

Forgotten Irish Tales of 1992/93 Campaign

Turner’s Goal

Andy Turner was the youngest Premier League player when he struck a late winner for Spurs against Everton in September 1992 aged just 17. He held the league’s record for most youthful scorer for almost five years until Michael Owen struck for Liverpool. By then, Turner’s career was on the slide towards non-league. His maiden season was his peak.

Eddie’s Heroics

Two Irish players earned moves off the back of starring roles for relegated sides. Roy Keane was a gem for Nottingham Forest and chose Manchester United and the rest is history. Eddie McGoldrick left Crystal Palace and went to Arsenal. He didn’t make the same impact.

’Boro Boys

Middlesbrough were the Burnley of that era. Six Irishmen featured across that season with teenagers Graham Kavanagh and Alan Moore breaking through to a squad that included Chris Morris, Alan Kernaghan, Bernie Slaven and Curtis Fleming. Unfortunately, they couldn’t avoid relegation.

Ireland’s Crazy Gang

Joe Kinnear was flying the flag for Irish-born managers and he regularly called on the services of centre-half Scott Fitzgerald who was capped for Ireland at U-21 and B level. The Londoner is now academy manager at Millwall. Dubliner Paul McGee also figured for ‘The Crazy Gang’ but he failed to build on his early promise and ended up back in the League of Ireland via Linfield.

The Skipper

Today, the captain of a Premier League side who played over 3,500 minutes in his club’s season would be thrust into Irish duty. It says something about Ireland’s options back then that Oldham skipper Mike Milligan only won a solitary cap for Ireland.

Peyton’s Cameo

Gerry Peyton is probably best remembered as Packie Bonner’s understudy but he was already a veteran by Italia ‘90 and was in his 37th year when he featured in the Premier League on loan from Everton to Chelsea. He came on as sub for Dmitri Kharine in a January defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.

Irish Independent

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