Football/Soccer

'I know they'll say you've more clubs than Tiger Woods, you're s**t, but I'll be sitting there pissing myself laughing'

From hotly-tipped GAA starlet to globe-trotting soccer star, Cillian Sheridan has packed plenty into an action-packed sporting career, but it is away from the football field where he has started to attract a new audience. Neil Loughran talks to the colourful Cavan man...

Cillian Sheridan, during his short-lived spell with Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand, takes a selfie with fans after a game against Melbourne Victory. Picture by INPHO

CILLIAN Sheridan has to stop. From his hillside base looking across Kiryat Shmona, he is chewing over the friendliness and foibles of the people with whom he shares the city when the door knocks.

“Hold on a sec…”

The muffled conversation is barely audible from the discarded phone, beyond the enthusiasm of his female caller and the occasional not-really-sure-if-this-is-okay “okay”.

When he returns to the call, Sheridan has uncovered another destination, somewhere between confusion and alarm.

“That was one of the neighbours coming up asking...” he says, the sentence suddenly tailing off.

“Hold on - what were they asking? I think they were asking if I wanted to mind their house for a few weeks… or if I’d look after their cats while they’re away? God… I hate cats.

“I don’t know… I don’t know them. That’s a new one on me; I haven’t had that anywhere.”

Any by anywhere, he means anywhere.

For most of the past decade Cillian Sheridan has embarked on a magical mystery tour that has brought him from Bailieboro to Bialystok, Scotland to Sofia and Nicosia to New Zealand before pitching up at his most recent stop near the Israeli/Lebanon border.

Along the way there have been eye-catching appearances for the Cavan minors, Aussie Rules offers, Hoop dreams, Republic of Ireland caps and Champions League nights at Old Trafford and the Nou Camp.

There has also been homesickness, hoodied gangs, shady scenes at training, 11 clubs (and counting), any number of ways to pronounce Cillian, befuddled voicemails from elderly Italian managers, Twitter trolling and inadvertently telling the best player on the planet to f**k off.

The road to Damascus isn’t too far away from where he stands right now, but there is no great revelatory moment on the horizon just yet. Through it all Cillian Sheridan has taken life in his stride, so why would he change now?

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Cillian Sheridan was superb for Cavan in both of their 2005 Ulster MFC semi-final meetings with eventual All-Ireland champions Down

‘I believe in miracles

Where you from

You sexy thing (sexy thing you)

I believe in miracles

Since you came along

You sexy thing’

CLUTCHING a banana, a 6’5 Irishman with a top knot stands on a table at the front of the room, clad in the all-black strip of Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona, motioning with his hands for silence.

Once a hush descends, Cillian Sheridan launches into the unmistakeable bassline of the Hot Chocolate classic; eyes closed, plucking away at an imaginary Fender Special, the banana serving as a makeshift microphone.

Team-mates and staff whoop and holler along; they are unlikely to have witnessed too many initiations like this.

He announced his arrival in some style on the field too, bagging all three goals in a 3-1 cup win over Hapoel Kfar Saba back in August. Unfortunately his new club didn’t carry that form into the new season but have picked up in recent weeks, with Sheridan scoring the late winner against Hapoel Ra’anana last Saturday to leave them sitting 10th in the Israeli Premier League.

Eight games in, it’s early days yet - for them and for him.

But how did he end up here, back on the other side of the world so soon after beginning a new life Down Under with Wellington Phoenix at the start of 2019?

“Because I was free, I was open to anywhere. I’d no idea where I’d be going.

“The previous six months set me back a bit because I didn’t really play. Maybe it was bad timing, maybe a bit rushed going there.

“I probably would’ve been hoping to have more offers, but it was just a case of taking every call you get. I wouldn’t close the door on too many things.”

Kiryat Shmona is a fair distance from Crossmaglen, the spot where Sheridan first served notice of his sporting prowess, shining brightly as Cavan came so close to raining on Down’s parade in the 2005 Ulster MFC.

The Mournemen, who boasted the prodigious talents of a young Marty Clarke, eventually progressed after a replay and would go on to All-Ireland glory.

Unfortunately for Cavan supporters, those days at St Oliver Plunkett Park were the last they would see of Sheridan in Breffni blue.

“I was only 16 at the time, I was actually asked to come in as a goalkeeper so I said ‘yeah, f**k it, it’s only goals’. I played two challenge matches – conceded no goals by the way – and then in training the manager brought me outfield and I did okay.”

“He did better than okay,” recalls Cavan stalwart Cian Mackey, also part of that 2005 minor team.

“When he was brought out to midfield in training he was marking Ray Cullivan and Cillian destroyed him. He was awesome.

“Honestly, he had everything; very athletic, a great pair of hands, could kick scores, but there was always whispers of him going across the water for soccer, so you sort of knew he wouldn’t be about too long...”

That following summer Sheridan attended an Aussie Rules combine alongside Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone, among others, and was offered the opportunity to try out at Brisbane Lions.

By then, though, there had been enough soccer scouts sniffing around to convince Sheridan his future lay closer to home, and with a round ball at his feet.

“I went for trials at Norwich, Blackburn, Sunderland as well, but Celtic were the only club that actually offered me a contract. Tommy Burns was head of youth, he signed me, and I went over there not really expecting anything.

“I didn’t have that pressure of having been with Celtic from I was 13; for some of the lads that was their main goal where for me it only had happened in the last year or two playing for Belvedere. It was a no-lose scenario for me.

“I was really raw. In terms of football knowledge, tactically, I wouldn’t have had a clue... I’d just have been running around the place.”

Cillian Sheridan joined Celtic as a raw teenager but it wasn't long before he was thrust into first team action under Gordon Strachan. Picture by PA

Bhoys boss Gordon Strachan clearly saw something in the lanky teenager, and on the weekend of his 18th birthday - February 24, 2007 - Sheridan made his first team debut away to Inverness in the Scottish Cup.

The following year he would come on as a substitute for Scott McDonald in a Champions League game against Manchester United, doing enough to earn a start in the return fixture.

But Sheridan never felt like an established member of the first team squad at Parkhead, with a series of loan moves leading to his eventual exit.

During that time there were short-term spells at Motherwell, Plymouth Argyle and St Johnstone before a return to Scotland with Kilmarnock after two seasons spent at Bulgarian outfit CSKA Sofia.

But once his time at Rugby Park came to an end, Sheridan’s odyssey into the unknown would properly commence.

After relocating to Cyprus, he helped Apoel Nicosia to consecutive league and cup doubles, as well as reaching the Champions League group stages where they were pitted against European heavyweights Barcelona, Paris St Germain and Ajax in an extraordinary 2014/15 season.

“When I was at Celtic, they were competing in the Champions League every year. You’d almost take it for granted that if you’re with the first team at Celtic, you’re going to be playing Champions League, whereas when I went away you realise how big of a competition it is to play in.

“I knew to take it in more; I wanted to remember everything about it.”

And he does – absolutely everything, wincing slightly at the memory of an exchange of words with the Barca number 10 after one gesture towards the referee too many.

“In the tunnel, you’re looking at them like ‘that’s Messi, Neymar’ but when you’re out there, you’re not thinking of who you’re playing – you’re not really thinking anything.

“But one thing Messi did a lot was, any time one of our players was trying to stop him, he would just stop and put his hands up to the referee - like ‘what are you doing, you can’t tackle me’.

“When you’re losing and you see that happening, you’re just like ‘f**k off, come on’. I didn’t go out seeking Messi to tell him to f**k off, it was just the heat of the moment.”

The heat wasn’t always contained to the field either during his time in Cyprus, as Sheridan recalls the club Ultras making their presence felt at the training ground whenever results weren’t going the right way.

“It could be intimidating – they’re coming there to scare you, and they’ll do what they need to do... it could be physical. In the UK, that would never really happen. You’re never going to get a group of fans marching into training, all wearing hoodies...

“I mean, I’ve been there when they’ve been slapping a guy in the face like ‘are you listening?’ It’s mad. It’s not something you necessarily get used to, but you’re more prepared for it.

“It’s more quiet here from what I can tell so far, but when you go off the beaten track, it opens up a whole new avenue to obscure places - or things that seem obscure to us.”

And if his career trajectory doesn’t tell you that Cillian Sheridan is drawn to the obscure, then his exploits away from football surely will.

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The tongue-in-cheek tweet that was shown on Match of the Day, and which raised the ire of Norwich City fans

 

‘I used to have my voicemail greeting as that stupid thing where you pretend you’ve answered the phone but don’t have coverage or can’t hear the person. It was the end of the season and I was out and couldn’t answer my phone. Checked my voicemail after a while, and had at least a 1 minute voicemail from a confused Mr Trapattoni trying to talk to me. I phoned back and it was to let me know I didn’t make the Euro 2012 finals squad’ 

THE trick is to recognise what’s reality and what is not. As Giovanni Trapattoni discovered to his cost, this is often easier said than done.

“It’s like the thing to do now with ex-pros, where they just come out and tell stories; Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, then the Roy Keane stuff recently.

“So I was like ‘f**k it, I want to be involved as well’ - even if most of it didn’t actually happen.”

Hence, for the past couple of months, Cillian Sheridan has emerged as Twitter’s king of the apocryphal tale. Nine out of 10 are straight from his imagination, the other plucked from a colourful career, with nothing more satisfying than getting a bite on the line. Take this one for example.

“The accolades Van Dijk is getting now don’t surprise me one bit. I remember years ago in Scotland, about 2 mins into the game I noticed his laces weren’t tied. Tackles, headers, interceptions, he won everything against me. At full time I looked down....his laces were still untied.”

A soccer website ran a full story based around that tweet, using it as a vehicle to further eulogise the apparently unflappable Dutch defender.

Match of the Day displayed one of his posts in the aftermath of Norwich’s opening-day Premier League hammering at the hands of Manchester City.

“Norwich City was the first club I went to on trial when I was younger, so I always look out for their results,” he had tweeted before kick-off, “and hope they get hammered. They didn’t offer me anything.”

Producers of the flagship BBC show weren’t the only ones to take the bait as Canaries fans queued up to vent their spleens.

“It’s the replies that get me,” he says with a laugh.

“As soon as I write something like that, I know I’m opening myself up to get abused. I know they’ll say oh, you’ve been playing wherever, you’ve more clubs than Tiger Woods, you’re s**t, but I’ll be sitting there pissing myself laughing at what comes back.

“Something happened on my Twitter about six months ago where it started gradually unfollowing people. Now I don’t follow anybody, but that’s not by choice – it actually won’t let me follow anyone.

“But that adds fuel for some of the replies, people who are like ‘look at him, thinks only his opinion matters’.”

It doesn’t end with Twitter either.

He also has the ‘Mr Sherry’ podcast, 50 episodes in, a series of random musings probably best described by his one-time team-mate.

“He just talks pure shite,” says Cian Mackey, “but it’s funny.”

And then there’s Instagram, where Sheridan’s sphere of influence extends to the occasional opposition player.

“It was the second leg and the game was still in the balance,” he tweeted recently in reference to a previous Champions League qualifier.

“During the first half, their centre half started telling me he liked my Instagram. This was while play was going on. At first I didn’t really understand him, so I asked him to repeat it. Then he said something like ‘your Instagram, I see it and you make funny videos’.

“I just started laughing and said an awkward thanks. Then missed a header.”

That one was true and, as it turns out, so too was the Trapattoni voicemail story regarding his non-selection for Euro 2012.

“It was out of the blue,” says Sheridan, whose three caps – the last of which was a 2010 friendly against Argentina - all came during the veteran Italian’s reign.

“It was just him trying to speak to me. I know I said it was one minute but it was probably more like two or three - ‘Ceeeeeellian, hello… Hello? Ceeeeeellian... Ceeeeeellian?’

One memory soon spawns another as a second Trap tale follows.

“One time I got a kick on my calf in a training camp, and the next day I couldn’t train.

“When we were walking off, Trapattoni was saying to me that he played for Italy with some striker who was always getting kicked by defenders, and what he used to do was wear shin pads on both sides – shin pads on his shins and shin pads on his calves.

“So, I dunno... I think he was trying to tell me to wear two sets of shin pads.”

Despite being off the international scene for so long, Sheridan still hasn’t given up hope of pulling on the green jersey again.

But being overlooked doesn’t niggle at him in the way it once did. Moving around, adapting to new surroundings time and again, has taught him not to dwell when dark clouds descend.

There have been times he has wished he was anywhere other than where he was at different points in time, but it never lasts. And with each new chapter comes another opportunity to step into the unknown and experience something unique.

“Everywhere has given me something different.

“Don’t get me wrong, it can be pretty shit sometimes; you miss the things you’re used to. Even just meeting up with friends, stuff like that.

“But when I get that feeling now, I know that it passes. I’ve had it loads of times where in my head I’ll be thinking ‘f**k this, I’ll just go back and play in Scotland’ or whatever, but you get over it.

“That’s maybe the other reason I’ve been taking the piss a bit on Twitter; I know I’m 30, I’m at the other side of my career as opposed to the beginning. I don’t mind if people think I’m shit and want to tell me that. It doesn’t bother me.

“I know how football works, I’m not going to get the opportunities I might’ve got five years ago where I had to watch what I said… I can kind of say what I want now.”

And for that we should all be grateful.

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