Sheriff move beginning to bear fruit at Saracens
RUGBY: Eoin Sheriff fully appreciates his career as a professional rugby player because injury threatened to deny him the privilege. The 24-year-old Gorey native has recently become a fixture in the Saracens match-day squad, named among the replacements for the English club’s last three games.
In 2010, the 6ft 5in, 17 and a half stone secondrow was on a development contract with Leinster when he was confronted by a degenerative Achilles tendon problem that required surgery. Coach Joe Schmidt was in his first season in charge and Sheriff had managed just a 48-minute league cameo against the Glasgow Warriors.
Sheriff had played for Ireland at Youths, under-19 and under-20 levels, so too for Leinster A, but there was no guarantee of a senior contract. He made a decision to join Saracens but his Achilles flared up and he was told that an operation gave him no better than a 50 per cent chance of recovering fully.
The offer was withdrawn and he instead left Lansdowne for Shannon in the summer of 2011 – his older brother Rory, also a secondrow and underage international, had been part of the Limerick club’s four-in-a-row in the 1990s – playing two matches before Saracens returned in November for a second courtship, albeit only offering a week’s trial.
He arrived to train on a Friday afternoon and the following Monday played an A league match for the club. He suffered a tear to his groin after about 10 minutes but in desperation tried to camouflage the damage by playing on.
The injury required a four-week lay-off but Saracens had seen enough potential to offer him a one-year contract.
Grateful for advice
Sheriff spent the rest of the season, trying to get fit while playing for the A side but it was only last August, after a proper pre-season, that he felt healthy enough to properly tackle the rigours of the sport. His decision to move to England has been vindicated and he’s grateful for the advice he received at the time from a couple of Leinster players.
“Getting a [senior] contract [with Leinster] was looking a bit iffy. It was Joe Schmidt’s first year and I hadn’t been able to show him anything. I spoke to Leo Cullen and Eoin Reddan about their experiences and they were very helpful and honest. There are only four teams in Ireland so opportunity is limited. I wanted to play professional rugby and I was prepared to move to pursue that ambition.
“The boys suggested that England toughens you up because of the emphasis on being physical in the tight five. I knew that I was athletic but I had to find out if I had other qualities. There are a lot of awfully good players back home who wouldn’t be known to those outside the All Ireland League scene. If you don’t play week in, week out then it’s difficult to jump in when given the odd chance at a higher level.
“I am so grateful to Saracens. They gave me a chance in a great learning environment. They’ve a big squad and so you have to take the opportunities when presented. I am one of five secondrows alongside England internationals Steve Borthwick and Mauritz Botha, South African Alastair Hargreaves and George Kruis; competition for the match-day squad is very tough.
“I did play a little bit at six back in Leinster and while it is another string to the bow, I prefer secondrow. Working with coaches Alex Sanderson, Paul Gustrad and head coach Mark McCall has helped me to develop as a player. Mark has been very supportive and encouraging.”
Sheriff has recently agreed a contract extension that will keep him at the club until the summer of next year. He is enjoying his life in London and found a kindred spirit in his house-mate, prop Mako Vunipola. “It’s not the tidiest house, something I think that Mako’s parents appreciate after a recent visit. I think they were taken aback by the mess,” he says, laughing.
Niall Morris (Leicester), Shane Monahan (Gloucester) and Sheriff were contemporaries in the Leinster academy. All have forged new careers in English rugby and stay in touch.
Sheriff continues: “I wanted to play professional rugby and I had to move to further that ambition. I’d love to play for Ireland but there aren’t many plucked from A teams to do that. I have a long way to go but I’m willing to do everything I can to make it.”