The Ryan Giggs of all Ireland

At 19, Jason Sherlock has a country at his feet. After this weekend he will expand his horizons. David Hughes reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Move over Pamela Anderson, Ryan Giggs, Boyzone et al. A star has been born this Irish sporting summer by the name of Jason Sherlock, the like of which has never been seen on the magazine and newspaper shelves before. If there has been a further depletion of the Amazonian rain forests, then Jasonmania is at least partly culpable.

In the build-up to tomorrow's All-Ireland Gaelic football final at Croke Park between Dublin and Tyrone, there have been three centre-spread posters, countless radio interviews and yet more life stories of the 19-year-old Dublin full-forward already regarded as the first superstar of this amateur sport (ability at leaping, running, catching and dribbling required).

Dublin are the Manchester United of Gaelic Athletic Association and Sherlock is their Giggs. On Hill 16, the Stretford End of Croke Park, they even have their own chant for Sherlock, appropriately enough based on the pop hit of the summer. "Boom boom boom, everybody say Jay-O. . . Jay-O."

After 12 years and counting since their last All-Ireland (the legend goes that the last time they were there the seven-year-old Sherlock was on Hill 16 himself with his uncle). Dublin desperately needs another title: the GAA desperately needs them to win another to stave off the increasing popularity of football and ironically, given an equally promising football career which may shortly take him on to Anfield, Sherlock is the man charged with bringing Dublin its Holy Grail.

Typically, he takes it all in his stride. "I'm the difference from other years, but if we lose it means that I wasn't different from what they had any other year. Either way I know this won't last forever, I'm being built up to be knocked down. But I intend to enjoy it, to savour the atmosphere. I'm not going to be a bundle of nerves."

So how to explain this phenomenon? "The guy has everything going for him," says Louis Walsh, the manager of the pop group Boyzone. "And the girls love him. He has star quality."

He has that all right. The exotically Oriental looks, the calm demeanour of a 19-year-old going on 35.

A substitute at the start of Dublin's campaign, he has forced his way into the side not through consistent, high-scoring brilliance, but with some stunning goals at some key moments, most notably in the semi-final win over Cork.

He admits that his own contribution has been overrated. "My contribution [in the semi-final] was very bad. I'm not happy with my overall form."

Yet as his manager, Pat O'Neill, says: "He has this innate ability to strike."

Even when only scoring two points in the Leinster final rout of bitter adversaries Meath, Sherlock grabbed the attention by planting a peck on the referee's cheek near the end. "It was just spontaneous," he explained. "I knew we had the game won. The ref was stunned and everybody went over the top about it. It just shows there's not much fun in it any more."

An only child from the working-class suburb, Finglas, in Dublin, there is something street-wise about Sherlock. Here is a young man in charge of his own destiny who clearly intends to make the most of the God-given talents at his disposal.

They are considerable. The Irish sporting public has always had a fascination with its dual stars and it just so happens that Sherlock is a triple star, in basketball, football and Gaelic football. He is blessed with innate athleticism and ball playing skills, salmon-like leap ing and an ability to spin through 180 degrees on the proverbial sixpence.

Accordingly, Sherlock was a point guard for the Irish basketball team from Under-15 to Under-19. He also augmented a stunning first season with University College Dublin's promotion-winning youngsters in the League of Ireland by winning his first football Under-21 cap against Austria in June.

So impressed was the Liverpool defender, Phil Babb, by Sherlock's brilliantly irreverent performance in a UCD-Liverpool friendly at Lansdowne Road a month before, that he commented: "He's a bit cheeky, isn't he?" So impressed was Roy Evans, the manager, that he promised Sherlock a trial.

If the truth be told, basketball is his true love but it does not put the meat on the table, so Sherlock - almost chillingly - makes no bones about his ultimate ambition. "I'd like to get to England. The financial aspects are more rewarding."

His icon and now, revealingly, his agent is Kevin Moran, the former Dublin All-Ireland winner and businessman who forged a career in football which earned him 71 international caps and wealth beyond the wherewithall of most of his contemporaries. "That's the ultimate. To follow in his footsteps." So much so that Sherlock after his summer of "eye-opening" media frenzy, intends following Moran's steps in marketing one day. Even to the extent of becoming a player's agent.

In the meantime - and you sense he is only half joking - he says: "I'll have played for my country, won a few European Cups . . ." Where will it all end? He does not know and no one else would dare lay down any limits at the moment. Jasonmania has more shelves to fill yet.

n Highlights of the final will be shown on Channel 4 tomorrow from 11.45pm- 12.50am

Comments