‘Are they look­ing at me as a foot­baller? Or be­cause I look half Chi­nese?’

Ja­son Sher­lock talks to Paul Kim­mage about the hurt that drove him on ...................

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL KIM­MAGE

FIVE years ago. I’m sit­ting at a ta­ble with Ja­son Sher­lock at the Louis Fitzger­ald Ho­tel. The talk is Dublin and Done­gal and Lance Arm­strong and Katie Tay­lor. It’s an awards din­ner. The usual fare:

“Soup or salad?”

“Beef or salmon?”

“Tea or cof­fee?”

And then, some­thing I wasn’t ex­pect­ing.

“You in­ter­viewed me be­fore,” he says.

“Yeah, in ’95,” re­ply.

“Was it?”

“Just be­fore the All-Ire­land.” “Right.”

“We met at that ho­tel on Eden Quay . Is it the Clifton Court?”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” “Why?”

“They were bas­ket­ball peo­ple.” “No, why did you bring up the in­ter­view?”

“Oh, you asked me some­thing I hadn’t been asked be­fore.”

“I did?”

“Some­thing that al­ways stuck in my mind.”

“Right.”

He didn’t say what it was. One day, as I headed out to join the kids from Car­ri­gallen Park for yet an­other soc­cer marathon in the es­tate, a pal started off on me, singing a song called ‘Ja­panese Boy’ at the top of his voice. When I cast my mind back that tune still grates.

The rest of the lads found it hi­lar­i­ous and started do­ing this geisha-girl dance. But I was hu­mil­i­ated. Dev­as­tated. I picked up a rock, flung it at the win­dow of my pal’s house and waited for the sound of the smash­ing glass. To my dis­gust I only cracked the pane.

I ran into my house and sat wait­ing in the sit­ting room for the in­ves­tiga­tive process to get un­der way. My un­cle Brian was alerted to what hap­pened, he ar­rived on the scene and went to in­spect the bro­ken win­dow. When he came back there were no ques­tions but I knew what was com­ing. Brian let me have it. There I was, in my own mind the in­jured party, pun­ished and em­bar­rassed, and be­cause I made no ef­fort to ex­plain why I had thrown the rock, why I had re­acted like I did, I com­pounded my own mis­ery.

I was slagged off for how I looked but I wrapped it up in­side. Look­ing back, Brian prob­a­bly de­fended me in pub­lic be­fore chastis­ing me in pri­vate, but I should have spo­ken up and told him the full story. Trou­ble was, I never told any of the fam­ily about stuff like that. Jayo, My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy TWELVE days ago. We are sit­ting in a room of the Castle­knock Ho­tel talk­ing about his soon-to-be-pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “Do you re­mem­ber this?” I say, hand­ing him a copy of our in­ter­view from ’95. “You men­tioned it the last time we met.”

“Yeah, that’s the piece,” he says. “I went through it line-by-line try­ing to find the ques­tion, the one you re­mem­bered, but it only made sense when I read your book — it was a ref­er­ence to your fa­ther: He doesn’t have a dad. Not one that he re­mem­bers any­way.

“Yeah. I was in­trigued you put that in. It wasn’t some­thing jour­nal­ists brought up. I don’t know whether that was be­cause they didn’t want to broach it, or be­cause I didn’t want to deal with it.”

“Hu­mour me for a mo­ment while I fill in the gaps: your fa­ther was De­nis Le­ung?”

“Yeah.”

“His fam­ily owned a restau­rant in Dublin and had moved to Ire­land from Hong Kong in the 1970s?” “Yeah.”

“He is not in a re­la­tion­ship with your mother when you’re born but you see him from time to time?” “Yeah.”

“You didn’t tell me any of this in

’95?”

“No, I didn’t have enough . . . I don’t know if it’s emo­tional in­tel­li­gence or per­spec­tive. I just de­nied that side of the fam­ily.”

“You’re born in Dublin, and raised in a three-bed­room semi in Fin­glas?” “Yeah.”

“It’s the home of your grand­mother, Kath­leen Sher­lock?

“Yeah.”

“Kath­leen and your mother, Alice, share a dou­ble bed. Your un­cle Ed­die has the sec­ond bed­room, and you share the other one with your un­cle Brian?” “Yeah.”

“So as a fam­ily unit, you’re dif­fer­ent to your neigh­bours?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you aware of be­ing dif­fer­ent?” “Yeah, our next-door neigh­bours were the Cahills and the Ger­aghtys — a typ­i­cal coun­try fam­ily with a dad and a mum and brothers and sis­ters. So I knew it was dif­fer­ent.”

“And you look dif­fer­ent?” “Yeah, but I felt like a Dub. I felt like ev­ery­one else.”

“What’s your first mem­ory of be­ing dif­fer­ent?”

“Well, you go back and there was that (old nurs­ery) rhyme: ‘Chi­nese, Ja­panese, dirty knees, look at th­ese’ and I used to hate it be­cause I felt they were slag­ging me. Any word that was as­so­ci­ated with Asia or Asian had neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions for me. I hated Bruce Lee be­cause he was high­light­ing how I looked. Any­thing like that I re­ally strug­gled with.”

“What’s your first con­scious mem­ory of your fa­ther?”

“That’s a good ques­tion. I prob­a­bly knew his fam­ily first. I think he moved out of Ire­land when I was born but . . . I don’t know. I didn’t want to find out. I re­sented that part of my life.”

“So your first mem­ory is of his fam­ily rather than him?”

“Yeah, they lived above the restau­rant on South Anne Street, be­side the Church of Ire­land church. I re­mem­ber be­ing there, very young.”

“It’s ob­vi­ous from the book that they treated you well?”

“Ab­so­lutely. They used to spoil me. There’s a Chi­nese tra­di­tion for luck and they would put money in th­ese red en­velopes and pass them around for me. And they would give us all sorts of food when we were leav­ing.”

“And your mother em­braced that? She didn’t re­sent them?”

“No, my mother has a heart of gold. She wanted to keep the con­tact but it was some­thing I had great dif­fi­culty with. My per­cep­tion of my fa­ther and his fam­ily was a neg­a­tive thing for me.” “Why?”

“Be­cause of the abuse I got for it.” “For the way you looked?” “Yeah.”

“Here’s a quote from the book: ‘Look­ing back now, maybe if some­one has just sat me down and said, “Ja­son, you’re a lit­tle dif­fer­ent be­cause of where your fa­ther came from, but sure we’re all dif­fer­ent in our own way” — it might have saved me so much grief and tur­moil. Had it been ex­plained to me why I was slightly dif­fer­ent from oth­ers, and why some peo­ple might re­mark on that or even show hos­til­ity or prej­u­dice, I might have un­der­stood and learned ear­lier how to deal with it. But that is all re­flec­tive’.”

“Yeah.”

“So what was ex­plained to you?” “What do you mean?”

“Did your mother never sit you down and say: ‘This is your fa­ther, Ja­son. This is how we met’.”

“It was never some­thing we went into any de­tail over.”

“When are your mem­o­ries of him?” “He brought me to a fair once, a car­ni­val in Dun­sink. I re­mem­ber go­ing on all of the rides.”

“How did that work? Did he just turn up on the door?”

“No, I was brought to the end of the road to meet him.”

“By your mother? Or your un­cle?” “Yeah. And was dropped off there as well. Again, I wouldn’t say I gave him much of a wel­come be­cause of the neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions for me. I didn’t have the in­tel­li­gence to un­der­stand: ‘Look, there is noth­ing wrong here’.” “What about your friends?” “Yeah, my friends would have known.”

“Would they ask you about him?” “No. If I was with teams and played well, that was as much as they needed to know. And maybe I kept a dis­tance. I wouldn’t say I have a huge amount of friends; there is that part of me that is guarded.”

“Even now?”

“Yeah, not con­sciously, but sub­con­sciously maybe. It’s a para­noia I have when I deal with peo­ple: ‘Are they look­ing at me as a foot­baller? Or be­cause I look half Chi­nese?’ There’s a part of me that sec­ond-guesses peo­ple all the time.”

“That’s ridicu­lous.”

“That was my child­hood. And that raw­ness or anger or what­ever it was, was the rea­son I went on to play for Dublin, and to rep­re­sent Ire­land. That was the mo­ti­va­tion. That was the drive. I played to win. I played to be ac­cepted.”

“Be­cause win­ning meant be­ing ac­cepted?”

“Yeah, in my head.” TWENTY-THREE years ago.

The Ir­ish Times car­ries a pho­to­graph of the 19 stu­dents — mostly first year — to re­ceive sports schol­ar­ships at UCD on Oc­to­ber 25, 1994. Among the re­cip­i­ents is a gifted rugby player, Den­nis Hickie, and a boy­ish-look­ing soc­cer tal­ent called Ja­son Sher­lock.

Six days af­ter that.

The pa­per car­ries a re­port of Sher­lock’s de­but for Dublin, a Na­tional League game against Kerry in Kil­lar­ney: “In the other cor­ner young Ja­son Sher­lock be­came the umpteenth player to au­di­tion for pos­ses­sion of the num­ber 15 shirt. He did as well as any of his pre­de­ces­sors, get­ting away from the sticky mark­ing of Mike Has­sett on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

“What im­pressed most, though, was Sher­lock’s goal late in the game. Hav­ing con­tin­u­ally taken up good in­tel­li­gent po­si­tions across the full-for­ward line a good pass fi­nally came his way. Sher­lock drove the ball home through the nar­row­est of gaps with the con­fi­dence of a vet­eran poacher.”

Two weeks later.

A Sat­ur­day night in Bally­bofey. Sher­lock lines out for UCD in their 2-1 de­feat of Finn Harps and then takes a taxi to Dublin — stop­ping in Sligo for a bag of chips — for the Na­tional League game against Done­gal in Croke Park the next day. He scores a goal and a point, im­press­ing the Dublin faith­ful and the man­ager, Pat O’Neill. “Ja­son Sher­lock has done very well so far in con­di­tions not ideal for him — or his size or pace. But he will do much bet­ter when the ground gets harder.” Four months af­ter that. Sher­lock is named in the Repub­lic of Ire­land squad for the un­der 21 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship qual­i­fy­ing game against Eng­land at Da­ly­mount Park. Among his team-mates are Shay Given, Gary Breen, Stephen Carr and Mark Kennedy. Af­ter the game (a 2-0 de­feat) he is in­vited to join the se­nior squad for the qual­i­fier against North­ern Ire­land at Lans­downe Road.

“One night we all went to the cin­ema in Santry,” he says, “and as soon as the squad walked in it was carte blanche, we could have what­ever we wanted. I ended up sit­ting be­side Tony Cas­carino watch­ing Dumb and

Dumber. Tony was crack­ing up all the way through and again it was un­real to be there be­side him.”

A month later.

UCD clinch the First Divi­sion Cham­pi­onship and Sher­lock is the PFAI Player of the Year. Their last game of the sea­son is a friendly against Liver­pool at Lans­downe Road. The Liver­pool team in­cludes Steve McMana­man, David James, Rob­bie Fowler, Jamie Red­knapp and Michael Thomas. But Sher­lock, as Noel Dunne re­ports in the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent, is not over­awed.

“Ja­son Sher­lock, who is the fo­cus of so much at­ten­tion from across the wa­ter, did not dis­ap­point his ob­servers. Par­tic­u­larly in the first half when he gave Michael Thomas quite a tor­rid time of it and even ‘sold’ Phil Babb out­ra­geously on one oc­ca­sion.”

Two days af­ter that.

Gerry Thorn­ley in The Ir­ish Times re­ports of in­ter­est from Liver­pool: “Tues­day night was a chance for UCD’s finest to pa­rade their abil­i­ties in the prover­bial shop win­dow and no­body grasped the op­por­tu­nity more ea­gerly than gifted Ja­son Sher­lock. Scouts aplenty must have been im­pressed, and none more so than Roy Evans. The Liver­pool man­ager sin­gled out Sher­lock in his af­ter-match com­ments and later in­ti­mated strongly to Sher­lock that he will be in­vited over to An­field for pre-sea­son train­ing.”

Three weeks later.

Sher­lock is se­lected for the Ire­land un­der 21s in a 3-0 de­feat of Aus­tria at Rich­mond Park. He takes a flight to Por­tu­gal for a short break, and then lines out for Dublin against Louth in the quar­ter-fi­nal of the Le­in­ster Cham­pi­onship.

A month af­ter that.

He scores a goal in the semi-fi­nal against Laois and pre­pares to face Meath in the Le­in­ster Cham­pi­onship fi­nal. What they said be­fore the game (David Walsh in the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent): “A friend who used to play in old Dublin/Meath matches holds out lit­tle hope for Sher­lock. ‘He is en­ter­ing into some­thing that he never knew ex­isted. This is one match you have to ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore you know what it is like.’ Yet who is to say that we are not talk­ing about an ex­cep­tional young tal­ent, one who can come into his first Le­in­ster fi­nal and leave his mark?” Three weeks later.

He de­liv­ers a bril­liant per­for­mance against Cork in the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal. What they said af­ter the game (Miriam Lord on page 1 of the Ir­ish

In­de­pen­dent): “BOOM, boom, boom

. . . Let me hear you say Jayo, Jayo! How long does it take to canon­ise a young fella? About 23 min­utes. That’s how long it took be­fore Dublin won­derkid Ja­son Sher­lock blasted home the goal that sealed his sta­tus as the Dubs’ new heaven-sent hero.

“It was VJ Day in Croke Park yes­ter­day. There may be 15 play­ers on a team, but as far as the Dubs were con­cerned, there was only one player on the field

. . . young Mis­ter Sher­lock. He needed a good game, and de­liv­ered. It was Vic­tory for Ja­son. The fans cel­e­brated.” A month af­ter that.

Dublin have de­feated Ty­rone to win their first All-Ire­land since 1983. Ja­son Sher­lock is sit­ting in the dress­ing room with tears stream­ing down his face. Eleven months have passed since he got the schol­ar­ship at UCD. He is 19 years old.

“Against ad­ver­sity Sher­lock now stands on the thresh­old of great­ness,” Seán Potts writes in the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent. “We pray that some un­likely flaw will hin­der his pro­fes­sional soc­cer ca­reer and that he will ma­ture as a Gaelic foot­baller with Dublin. What an awe­some prospect that would be. But we know al­ready he will suc­ceed, his ge­nius will not be de­nied.” In 2011, with the gap­ing, grad­ual re­al­i­sa­tion that my days were num­bered, I re­lented and started do­ing some me­dia stuff. I loved the GAA, loved sport and wanted to share my thoughts from a player’s per­spec­tive so I took on a news­pa­per col­umn and did some pieces with RTÉ. But my emo­tions re­mained raw. Still, it was im­por­tant to me never to say a bad word about Pat (Gil­roy) or any of the lads in­volved.

I bot­tled a lot of things up, still feel­ing I had let peo­ple down. Part of the rea­son I wanted to con­tinue and win with Dublin was to thank the peo­ple who had in­vested so much in me. But there I was, 16 years on from 1995 and still look­ing for that sec­ond fuck­ing medal. A ca­reer of fail­ure. I felt I’d let down Brian, the fam­ily, Joey and my

‘There may be 15 play­ers on a team but as far as Dublin were con­cerned, there was only one player on the ield . . .’

other friends. I was em­bar­rassed at how I had fin­ished up. Jayo, My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy “THERE’S a story you tell in the book about the All-Ire­land fi­nal in 2011. You’re sit­ting in the stands, watch­ing the Dublin play­ers cel­e­brate and you spot an old team-mate, Se­nan Con­nell, do­ing some me­dia work down on the pitch.

“Yeah.”

“You call his mo­bile and wave to him from the stand. He’s stand­ing close to Bernard Bro­gan and Paul Flynn and you want them to give you a wave. He goes to them and points to you, ‘Lads, Jay is up there.’ They look up and you thump your heart.”

“Yeah.”

“I thought that was re­ally in­ter­est­ing.”

“In what way?”

“Why would you do that?” “Well, it was the con­nec­tion I would have felt with them, re­gard­less of whether I was in­volved with the team at the time. I had goose­bumps when I saw them look­ing up and point­ing to their heart. It was spe­cial to me.”

“I got a sense, read­ing the pas­sage, that there was more to it than that — a sense of dis­ap­point­ment that, hav­ing played with them a year be­fore, you had just missed out.”

“That was the other side of the coin, the per­sonal side. But the over­whelm­ing feel­ing was be­ing happy for them.”

“Okay, keep go­ing. You go to the team ho­tel that night and end up in Cop­pers?”

“Yeah.”

“And then it’s on to an early house?”

“Yeah.”

“And then you end up some­where else. So it’s the Full Monty?” “Yeah,” he laughs. “A good aul’ day.” “Which is kind of odd be­hav­iour for a 35-year-old?”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know. It seemed the thing to do at the time. But maybe, deep down, it was a way of avoid­ing what the re­al­ity was.”

“Yeah, that’s the in­ter­est­ing bit. You get home on Mon­day evening and sud­denly you’re in this ‘dark place’. That’s the bit that in­trigues me.”

“In what way?”

“Dark im­plies de­pres­sion, or a deep sense of un­hap­pi­ness.”

“Yeah, well, that’s how it felt. There were dark times from 2009 up to 2011 and prob­a­bly for a cou­ple of years later as well — not only from what was hap­pen­ing in foot­ball but (gen­er­ally): ‘Where are you? What have you done with the last 14 years?”

“So your whole iden­tity, even at 35, was still wrapped up in your abil­ity as an ath­lete? You were still ‘Jayo the foot­ball player’?”

“I haven’t and didn’t know any­thing other than be­ing as­so­ci­ated with Dublin all through my adult life. It was one year of hap­pi­ness, and 14 years of gen­eral fail­ure. I had never given up on Dublin and there was still a part of me (in 2011) that felt I could have con­trib­uted in some way, so not be­ing part of it was tough. It wasn’t some­thing I dis­played straight af­ter the game, or in front of the play­ers, but when I got home . . .”

“You’re mar­ried?”

“Yeah.”

“To Louise?”

“Yeah.”

“How does she deal with that?” “By sup­port­ing me. You asked about peo­ple who know me — Louise knows me best. She’s had to deal with the highs, and mainly the lows, of my play­ing ca­reer so she knew how much it meant to me. And how much it im­pacted on me. There are a lot of peo­ple that as­so­ciate me with ’95 and I would never say, ‘Go away, I’m not talk­ing about that.’ But when I was on my own it was a bur­den to me. That was the an­chor. Rightly or wrongly, I was still judg­ing my­self on what hap­pened in ’95.”

“Okay, let’s go back there. You meet Kevin Mo­ran, who has been act­ing as your agent, a cou­ple of hours af­ter win­ning the All-Ire­land. “What do you want to do?” he asks.

“Yeah, my ‘Slid­ing Doors’ mo­ment. There was a lot of talk about me go­ing to Eng­land and if he had said, ‘Roy Evans wants you over. You need to get on a plane to­mor­row morn­ing,’ maybe things would have been dif­fer­ent. Be­cause that was the mo­ment to go. But we were cel­e­brat­ing and I wanted to join in, and I lost fo­cus for a while.” “Did the fame af­fect you?”

“No, los­ing af­fected me. Feel­ing a fail­ure af­fected me.”

“The celebrity didn’t af­fect you? You tell a story in the book about the open­ing of ‘Planet Hol­ly­wood’ and rub­bing shoul­ders with Sylvester Stal­lone and Wes­ley Snipes?”

“Yeah, but that was the ac­cep­tance I craved. I had es­caped be­ing dif­fer­ent; I was no longer ‘the Chi­nese-look­ing fel­lah’; I was ‘Ja­son Sher­lock, the Dublin foot­baller’. And that was all I wanted. I had no mo­ti­va­tion to win 10 All-Ire­lands or to go and play in the NBA. I was happy.”

“When did that change?” “Un­for­tu­nately, it only lasted for a short win­dow be­cause as soon as the re­sults went the wrong way, the neg­a­tiv­ity crept in and it put me in a to­tally dif­fer­ent place.”

“In your own mind?”

“Not re­ally. I had un­der­achieved, and I had to dwell on it. How had I got here? Was it be­cause I looked dif­fer­ent? Could I re­ally play or was I just a nov­elty act? And that’s when the ob­ses­sion with win­ning kicked in. I don’t like say­ing, ‘I wanted to prove some­thing to peo­ple’, but I sup­pose all of my life I’ve been try­ing to prove some­thing to peo­ple, and that def­i­nitely kicked in from the end of the ‘90s un­til I fin­ished up.” “To prove you could do it again?” “Yeah, win­ning again would have proved I wasn’t a nov­elty act, or a fluke. I didn’t want to be known as a fail­ure, or a loser.”

“But you weren’t a fail­ure. You had won an All-Ire­land?”

“Yeah.”

“They would rip your arm off in Mayo for one?”

“Yeah, I am lucky and priv­i­leged, I know that. But we got so much crit­i­cism as a team about what we were, and what we stood for, and we wanted to prove we were bet­ter than that. And I look back now and it’s dis­ap­point­ing that we never suc­ceeded. But I never gave up.”

“What if some­one had told you in ’95 that it was the last All-Ire­land you would win?”

“That might have been the best thing. The rules of en­gage­ment had changed for me. My fo­cus was clouded. I wasn’t the same player for a cou­ple of years.”

“What if they had told you that Dublin wouldn’t reach an­other fi­nal for 16 years?”

“It’s funny, I had my pic­ture taken with John O’Leary af­ter they won in ’83. I’m seven years old and wear­ing my com­mu­nion suit and the next time he wins an All-Ire­land I’m play­ing be­side him! We used to slag him about it for years: ‘What kind of a gob­shite are you still try­ing to win an All Ire­land?’”

“And then you be­came that gob­shite?”

“I be­came an even worse gob­shite,” he laughs. “At least he got a sec­ond one.” The MBA con­tained a sig­nif­i­cant work­load but, while it was daunt­ing, I re­ally got into it, prin­ci­pally be­cause one of the first modules we took was Or­gan­i­sa­tional Be­hav­iour, which cen­tred on team­work, group lead­er­ship and in­di­vid­ual lead­er­ship. Right from the start this mod­ule stood out for me. Like, how of­ten do any of us take time out of our daily rou­tine to re­flect on how we got here and where we are go­ing? It’s very rare that hap­pens. We don’t get time, life gets in the way. This mod­ule al­lowed me to re­flect on my per­son­al­ity and to ex­am­ine my ob­ses­sion with suc­cess from a healthy dis­tance. It was like study­ing and ac­tu­ally fig­ur­ing my­self out at the same time.

‘How had I got here? Could I re­ally play or was I just a nov­elty act?’ ‘The an­swer is they have the medals. And win­ners write the his­tory’

Jayo, My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy “TELL me about Louise?”

“What would you like to know?” “Does she have a sur­name?” “McGreal, a good Mayo name. She has re­la­tions in West­port.”

“How did you meet?”

“I met her through bas­ket­ball. We were St Vin­cent’s, an all-boys team, and our ri­vals were Coláiste Éanna, where the game was played by both male and fe­male play­ers. They used to have a few fans at their games and that’s how we met . . . around 1993.”

“So you were young?”

“Yeah, very young.”

“And you’ve two kids?”

“Yeah, Caoimhe is 19 and Joshua is 13.” “How are they do­ing?”

“Great. It’s lovely to see them grow­ing up with their own minds, and their own hopes and dreams.”

“Do they play sport?”

“A bit. Caoimhe plays a bit of hockey; Josh plays a bit of bas­ket­ball. It was never some­thing I would have forced, ob­vi­ously, hav­ing gone through what I went through but Josh is quite like-minded. He has a strong per­son­al­ity but he plays with a smile on his face and he’s a great team-mate. When he’s play­ing he’s laugh­ing, and his team-mates around him are laugh­ing, and ul­ti­mately that’s what sport is all about — par­tic­u­larly at that age.” “That’s not how you played?” “No. I was con­sumed by it for the wrong rea­sons — it be­came my iden­tity. It’s great to be the best you can be on the pitch, but there is a life out­side foot­ball as well. And that’s im­por­tant to pur­sue. I never re­ally had that when I was grow­ing up.”

“What about a ca­reer? Had you any am­bi­tions or ideas about what you wanted to be?”

“Not re­ally. I went to UCD and got a Di­ploma in Health and Safety but there was no long-term plan. It was just ‘go with it and it will be grand’. And then ’95 would have clouded things be­cause there were so many op­por­tu­ni­ties do­ing this and that . . . com­mer­cial stuff . . . the TV pro­gramme (Rapid) and it wasn’t un­til Tommy Lyons (got the Dublin job) in 2002 that I re­ally started think­ing about it. He said: ‘What are you go­ing to do in terms of a ca­reer?’ And like a lot of GAA play­ers I found a role in sales.”

“You were work­ing for Louis Fitzger­ald when we met in 2012?”

“I was.”

“The ho­tel busi­ness didn’t ap­peal to you?”

“There was a lot I liked about it, but I think we all want to wake up and do some­thing we’re re­ally pas­sion­ate about. When I fin­ished play­ing, the GPA were in touch and Dessie Far­rell said: ‘Have you con­sid­ered go­ing back to col­lege?’ And the MBA (Mas­ter’s in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion) gave me the con­fi­dence to ap­ply the traits I had ac­quired play­ing sport — team work, mo­ti­va­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion — to a dif­fer­ent sphere like busi­ness.”

“Dessie was the last Dublin player to write a book.”

“No, Philly McMa­hon,” he laughs. “That’s not out yet.”

“It’s out this week.”

“But it’s not some­thing Dublin play­ers have done. I’ve lost count of all the Kerry books — Ó Sé, Galvin, Don­aghy, Cooper.”

“Well, the most ba­sic an­swer I sup­pose is that they have the medals. And win­ners write the his­tory.”

“I of­ten think losers make bet­ter sto­ries.”

“Well, there’s plenty of los­ing in my book.”

“What made you want to do it?” “One of the as­sign­ments we had for the MBA was to write your life story in 3,000 words, and that was in­ter­est­ing be­cause it forced me to go back and re­flect on my life and I felt, af­ter writ­ing it, that I un­der­stood my­self a bit more.” “So the trig­ger was the as­sign­ment?” “Yeah, and in fair­ness to the lec­turer he thought it was well-writ­ten and was some­thing that could be pub­lished.” “Jim Gavin has writ­ten the fore­word?” “Yeah. How is it?”

“Well, I’ve never seen the point of fore­words but as they go it’s fine. Has he seen it?”

“The book?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, it’s not that I didn’t let him but . . .”

“He didn’t ask?”

“No.”

“You were team-mates in ’95; there’s that iconic photo of him with his arms raised at the fi­nal whis­tle. Who was he and who is he? Is it the same per­son?”

“Ab­so­lutely. Dublin is very close to his heart. He did the best he could do as a player, and he’s do­ing the best he can as a man­ager.”

“How many have you won now as part of his team?”

“Three.”

“How do they com­pare?”

“I don’t know if I’d com­pare them . . . sorry, no. The first one in 2015 was a mas­sive re­lease per­son­ally — just to be able to be a part of a win­ning Dublin team again. And I was very fo­cused when I met Jim that it had to be back-to-back, but some­where be­tween year one and year two it be­came less and less about the out­come for me. It was more: ‘How can I help? How can I as­sist them? How can I be the best that I can be to make them the best that they can be?’ That’s been my mo­ti­va­tion for the last three years and we’ve been lucky enough that the per­for­mances have been enough to get the wins.”

“You men­tion your fa­ther in the ac­knowl­edge­ments?”

“Yeah.”

“He died in ’95, just af­ter you won the All-Ire­land.”

“Yeah. He had moved abroad and was liv­ing in Jo­han­nes­burg and had a wife and a cou­ple of kids, and I got a call from his brother, my un­cle, to say that he had been mur­dered in a bur­glary. It was weird. I put down the phone and thought: ‘Should I feel up­set now?’ Be­cause in my head this per­son had no im­pact on my life.”

“When is the last time you saw him?” “It was prob­a­bly that time in Dun­sink . . I was in Jo­han­nes­burg (film­ing) with

Rapid about four or five years af­ter he died and I had a few hours to kill. I called my mam, and Louise, about go­ing to meet his fam­ily — be­cause I be­lieve I have a half-brother and po­ten­tially a half-sis­ter — but I de­cided not to.”

“What stopped you?”

(Sighs) “I just didn’t feel the con­nec­tion. I didn’t feel it was im­por­tant to me. What was I? 23? 24? I hadn’t seen this per­son in my life at all and yet . . . I thought about it. I con­tem­plated it.” “You’re 41 now?”

“Yeah.”

“How does it feel to be Ja­son Sher­lock at 41?”

(Smiles) “I’m older but prob­a­bly not much wiser. I’ve just done this au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and you look back and, yeah, it’s been strange try­ing to make sense of where I am and how I got here. And it feels weird to be ex­cited about the fu­ture, be­cause if you had asked me a cou­ple of years ago, I might not have felt like that.”

Photo: David Conachy

Photo: David Conachy

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