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'The word 'superstar' was bandied about but I know that wasn't all to do with my football ability'

Jason Sherlock spoke to The42 about his new book this week.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

JASON SHERLOCK’S IS a life of contradictions.

He spent his entire childhood trying to fit in only for his uniqueness to make him the most marketable player in the GAA.

He had a year of sporting success most athletes could only dream of achieving in a lifetime, only for it to be followed by what he terms “14 years of failure”.

Those contradictions make for a fascinating story, however, and the 41-year-old has attempted to make sense of them in his new book ‘Jayo: My Autobiography.’

Sitting in The42 offices, he appears a man content with his lot in life now, but the book recalls a different time, a different place, a different person and one who hated those differences.

“It’s a really important theme in the book because, at this stage, I understand that we’re all different and that should be celebrated.

And I’d like to think that kids might identify with challenges they have in their own situation, be it that they suffer from a lack of confidence or self-esteem or even just that they’re getting a bit of a slagging; I hope that they’ll be able to see how I dealt with it.

“If I was able to go back now, I’d say to myself  ‘It’s okay to be different, it’s actually great to be different’ and, if you feel down or you’re not happy with something, just share it, share it with your peers, your parents, your coaches, your teachers.

“It’s the differences we all have that make us so special and that is really important to me.”

Jason Sherlock Sherlock during his last season with Dublin. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Of course, despite our best intentions, sometimes differences do matter and Sherlock wonders if he’d have a chance of making it into today’s Dublin squad in his prime.

But even if he didn’t pick himself — Sherlock is a selector with the All-Ireland champions — he suggests there are more sporting opportunities for young lads from the north side of Dublin than there might have been in his time.

“It probably would be [a challenge to be selected] in terms of how the game has gone.

“The one thing though, regardless of sport, is that I always loved playing for Dublin, I always supported Dublin so they were in my heart and it was always my dream to play for them.

“I’m sure I would have tried to become a Gaelic footballer for Dublin but, yeah, the game has changed and I probably wasn’t made for GAA anyway. If anything I was made for rugby.

I would have loved to play rugby, potentially as a scrum-half, because I think that would have been the best sport for me, but — in my time — there was no rugby where I lived.

“Then again, I think everyone will find their own way. If you’re passionate about something then all you can do is get to the level you can get to.

“One thing I learned from writing the book is that you don’t judge your sporting career on the medals you won, but you judge it on a lot of other things other than success.”

Jason Sherlock 1/3/1998 During his time with UCD. Source: © Brendan Healy/INPHO

That said, were it not for his virtually unprecedented success in 1994/95, the theme of ‘Jayo’ would likely be  very different.

Given that he played soccer, basketball and Gaelic football at the level he did; his story would be no less compelling but, as much as it’s the taking part that counts, it’s the winning that people really remember.

“It was a unique sports journey for 12 months.

“Not everyone was around for that, so it’s nice to share it again and, even writing it, I’m reliving the surrealness of the whole situation where I come from playing minor — and I’m playing soccer as well and basketball — and I end up winning an All-Ireland with the Dubs.

Just to talk about that and go from, literally in May when I win a First Division title with UCD, to playing against Liverpool and I’m selected for the Ireland U21s, being on an Irish senior squad and then joining up with the Dublin seniors and, a few months later, winning an All-Ireland.

“It was, from a sports point of view, a unique career and one I was very lucky to have so it’s great to share that.

“And it wasn’t just my sporting career, obviously I got to experience a lot of things away from sports too which I never would have only for that.

“In terms of modern-day parallels, I think Shane O’Donnell when he burst onto the scene a couple of years ago out of nowhere and straight away there was this curiosity as people wanted to know him and who he was.

“I’d every sympathy for him because I’d been through that as well and it’s a challenge to get some reality when that happens.”

Even in midst of celebrating that first — and what would prove to be only — Sam Maguire, Sherlock, perhaps through a lifetime of experience, was self-aware enough to realise that the reason he was getting opportunities away from sport was not solely down to his ability to break a man’s ankles with just a flick of his hips.

Jason Sherlock and Mark O'Connor 1995 Sherlock leaves Mark O'Connor in the dirt. Source: INPHO

“I didn’t look like a GAA player, I didn’t play like a GAA player,” he says.

“There was a lot of curiosity there and the word ‘superstar’ was bandied about but I know that wasn’t all to do with my football ability. There were different things in play — and it was great — but there was this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it was the non-football reasons why I was getting all these opportunities.

“So I did struggle, particularly after 1995, to deal with that because I always felt that I wasn’t taken seriously as a footballer and, again, that was a challenge for me.

“I’d spent all my life up until 1995 wanting to be accepted and, then I finally was accepted and, really my motivation as a sportsperson waned in those few years because I was just happy to be ‘Jason Sherlock the footballer’, I didn’t want to win any more medals, I was happy where I was.

“It took a few years of losing and under-performing before I took stock and understood, right, I have a sporting career here, how am I going to succeed in it.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

At a few years remove from his retirement, Sherlock is more philosophical about not getting to walk up the steps of the Hogan Stand for a second time; especially as Jim Gavin — a team-mate from 1995, of course — gave him the opportunity to bow out on his own terms in 2013.

“It was disappointing [not to win another] and I finished in 2009 but, in the book I relay how in 2010, 2011 and even when Jim came on board in 2013, my philosophy was that I was getting better as a player and, the day that I wasn’t doing that, I’d pack it in.

“Even when Jim took over in 2013, I still felt like I had something to offer and he gave me that window to try. Now, he might have been dismissing it in his own head, but it gave me a focus and it meant that in May 2013 I got to a stage where I knew I wasn’t able to play anymore.

“I was able to ring Jim and explain that to him and, for me, that was closure. I didn’t get closure in 2009, but I certainly did then and that was really important for me as an athlete — to go out on my own terms — and that’s what Jim gave me at that stage.”

Jason Sherlock and Jim Gavin Sherlock in his new role. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But, to paraphrase Lao Tzu, what the diminutive forward calls the end, the rest of the world call a half-decade of dominance from Dublin. And Sherlock is enjoying his role as a coach, even if it’s all very new to him.

“I’m very new to coaching but one thing I’ve learned very early is that your coaching philosophy will be based on your experiences as a player so I think the fact that I lost and lost and lost as a player, that will ground me as a coach now and into the future.

“But these guys, they’re so good as individuals and their feet are on the ground, they don’t need to be dragged in or anything.o

“Obviously, I’m happy to chat if needs be but, the one thing that impresses me is that they’re great role models for Dublin supporters and there’s a lot of admiration for the players outside the county too.

“You look back, particularly the 00s under Pillar Caffery and Tommy Lyons, when we came in for a lot of criticism — in some cases justified because we didn’t actually get to an All-Ireland final — but the reality is we didn’t actually do a whole lot different then than we do now.

There are just fine lines in sport, and that’s why it’s very harsh to judge yourself just on winning and losing.

“I always felt that, once Dublin won one, they’d be around for a long time and it’s a credit to Jim Gavin that he’s sustained the success and he’s kept the motivation of the players.

“And it is great, but my experiences as a player mean I’ll always be grounded on how quickly it can change so, as much as we’re in a purple period, it’s not going to last forever and the challenge is to continue the success.”

Sherlock might be reluctant to pass on unsolicited advice to his Dublin charges, but given the depth and breadth of his life experience, has he any for a child who might feel like the way they look or their sporting ability, makes them different from their peers?

“I was a little guy living in Finglas South and I got to experience so much through sport, I’m very fortunate to do it.

If I was to give one piece of advice it would be to follow what’s in your heart. Whatever your ambition is, just go after it, give it everything.

“Then, when you’re on the other side of your career you’ll be able to sit back and be comfortable knowing you gave it everything you had.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

‘Jayo: My Autobiography’, published by Simon & Schuster, is available now.

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