Paul Sharry a central figure in Westmeath’s championship plans
Newly-promoted Lake County hoping to book their place against Dublin by defeating Carlow in Sunday’s Leinster first-round clash
Westmeath’s Paul Sharry is tackled by Derry’s Benny Heron during the Division Two final last month. “It was severely disappointing to lose that day,” says Sharry, “a great chance to bring some silverware back to Westmeath.” Photograph: Inpho
Losing your last league match in Croke Park, and the Division Two title that went with it, might not be ideal preparation for your opening game in the championship, but Paul Sharry reckons it’s just what Westmeath needed to refocus the minds ahead of Sunday’s Leinster football first-round meeting with Carlow.
Indeed it makes perfect sense: Westmeath were already promoted to Division One for 2014 before losing to Derry in that Division Two final, and any short-term pain will quickly be eased by the potentially longer-term gain of beating Carlow – especially with Dublin awaiting the winners on June 1st.
“It was severely disappointing to lose that day,” says Sharry, “a great chance to bring some silverware back to Westmeath. Because there has been a big drought there for a long time now.
“But we had a very positive league campaign, tried to look at the positives, and would much rather lose a league final than the first round of the championship against Carlow. And we have looked at the mistakes we made against Derry, tried to rectify them. And only so many teams get to play in the league finals, with the bonus of an extra game, and a little higher intensity than the rest of the league games. All of that is just what you need before the start of the championship.”
Sharry speaks from experience too: although just 24, and now first-choice centre back, he made his Westmeath debut in the 2009 Leinster semi-final in Croke Park, when Dublin went eight points clear in the first 10 minutes, and ended up winning 4-26 to 0-11. That also came in the middle of back-to-back relegations, or 14 straight league defeats. Yet Sharry, it seems, never lost hope.
“The confidence was very low, seriously low. But thank God the guys that are there are a great bunch of guys, everyone stuck together. The whole team bonded a lot closer and with that bond, the game started to improve. We started to work an awful lot harder.
“My good friend John Heslin also came back from Australia and was a huge boost to the team. He brought a lot of his professional attitude from Australia into our team. We started to place a lot more demands on ourselves in training.
“With that training started to improve and when your training starts to improve, your games are going to start to improve and the wins started coming naturally enough.”
He also credits Pat Flanagan – possibly one of the most underrated managers in the game – and yet at that stage, Sharry might well have turned his attention back to soccer, having developed a promising career with Shamrock Rovers. He started off with Cherry Orchards as an under-18.
“Yeah, I played a lot of soccer up to 2009 with Shamrock Rovers. I started off at under-18, with Cherry Orchard, then went to Shamrock Rovers, played there for three years. Then Tomás Ó Flatharta brought me back to Westmeath. I just felt GAA was a better suit for me because all my friends – the likes of Conor Lynam, John Heslin, lads I grew up playing with – I just felt more at home in the GAA so I stuck with that. At the end of the day, I had to make a choice.”
His parents would drive him up from Mullingar, and he knew that ultimately he would have to choose one game over the other: “If you want to make the most of your career at one sport, you’re better off focussing all your energy on one team because if you are split you’re going go 50-50 on both.
“But I would say soccer gave me a huge headstart in Gaelic football. It has progressed so much, but back when I played with Cherry Orchard, there was a lot more training related to the sport itself, whereas with Gaelic, back in those days, it was nearly laps, laps and more laps. Soccer had moved on to giving you speed and aerobic fitness, but Gaelic has got there now.
“The money never really crossed my mind either. What made the decision for me was the GAA and what it stands for. When I was young, I would never really have been watching Shamrock Rovers on TV, it would have been Westmeath. It was just like a dream that I wanted to follow.”