From shy hero to Jason of arrogance

 

AS the Irish sporting phenomenon of 1995 he's up there to be knocked now. Thus, for the knockers and begrudgers amongst us (of whom there are legions), the sight of Jason Sherlock sent off and trudging off at Belfield on the final day of the year, was too good a slagging opportunity to be true. When Sherlock stopped and stooped as if to pick up some mud, for one awful moment you feared the worst, but he was just letting them know what he'd like to do them.

Sherlock's year should never have ended like this, even if it is grist to his detractors mill. No doubt the inner frustrations which prompted him to lash out with his foot at Paul Campbell in UCD's New Year's Eve defeat at home to St Pat's were as much to do with his own faltering performances as the provocative treatment he was getting from the St Pat's defenders.

And provocation there was. I was in line with most of the second-half incidents which pre-empted his dismissal. Wilfred Wallace would be better off protecting good players rather than reacting to events, and initially would have been better off keeping up with the play and awarding a penalty when Sherlock was clearly fouled from behind after his pace had taken him clear of the St Pat's defenders.

Thereafter Sherlock's temper rose as he was backed down twice, resulting in one hooking for Dave Campbell. Subsequently, Paul Campbell swung an arm at Sherlock before going down in a heap to receive lengthy treatment before the predictably miraculous recovery. `Soupy' is a good all-round player, but his part in the episode stuck in the craw.

That's as maybe now. More pertinent is the general travail which Sherlock is experiencing now that his attentions have reverted to football. My own view is that in reverting to football within a month of Dublin's All-Ireland win, he did so about a month too soon.

His sporting year, indeed for two years or more, had known no respite, and he was still in party mode. Dublin were showing off Sam at every shopping centre and every pub in the capital it seemed. With Kevin Noran now his guru, Sherlock was understandably reaping the rewards of his celebrated status. But his fingers have been in too many pies, and it has showed in his expanding girth.

Sherlock is not the sharp, slimline striker whose speed and Romario-like ability to spin on a sixpence terrorised practically every defender who sought to come into contact with him, including Liverpool's finest. This, after all, is still the same, Sherlock whom Roy Evans singled out after UCD's centenary fixture at Lansdowne Road. "Keep at it and we'll bring you over for some training next season," Evans said to him. I know, I heard him say it in the foyer of the Burlington Hotel that night.

Then came Sam, and Moran, and Penneys, and the News of the World column and everything else and word of an impending Anfield trip. Is it any wonder that the 19-year-old became distracted, became, perhaps, a little big-headed and suffered from delusions of grandeur?

In this code he still has much to achieve and prove - just ones Premier Division goal thus far. An unsettled UCD have struggled in the higher division. The service isn't quite so regular, the defending not quite so slow.

Suddenly though, it's become very fashionable for opposing fans to goad him, and for practically everyone to start doubting whether Sherlock has what it takes to make it in the national League's Premier Division, never mind in Britain.

Perhaps he would be better off concentrating his efforts on gaelic. But for the moment that's as maybe. If Sherlock still wants it then he should go after it. Moran and the rest of his advisers, and everybody at UCD, should start encouraging him to work on his technical deficiencies. He was never the best striker or finisher, and sometimes mis-times his astonishing leaps a fraction too early, but most of all a tendency to play with his head down when the ball is at his feet must be rectified.

The irony is that full-training with an English Premiership club is probably what he needs now more than ever. He has enough natural speed and raw athleticism to knuckle down and prove the knockers and begrudgers wrong.

Now that would be mud in their eye.