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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019
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Cillian Sheridan on his blistering start to life in Poland and aspirations to earn an Ireland recall

The Cavan-born striker is fronting Jagiellonia Bialystok’s challenge for a first league title in their history.

The centre forward has been excellent for his new club.
The centre forward has been excellent for his new club.
Image: YouTube

SETTLING IN TO a new club, in a foreign country, with an unfamiliar culture can often prove problematic for footballers.

That certainly isn’t the case for Cillian Sheridan, who has really hit the ground running since his move to Polish title contenders Jagiellonia Bialystok at the end of February.

The well-travelled Cavan man was able to call upon his experiences in Scotland, Bulgaria and Cyprus as he quickly adapted to life on and off the field.

Sheridan has started all nine matches in the two months since — scoring five goals [two from the penalty spot] and providing four assists as the side from the north-east claimed six wins and three draws.

That leaves them joint-top of the Ekstraklasa table and well-placed to lift the title for the first time in their 97-year history.

“I’ve had a good six weeks in terms of goals and assists,” Sheridan tells The42. “We haven’t lost since I’ve arrived and we’ve been able to stay top of the table, which has been the most most important thing.

“From a personal point of view, I had played two games without scoring but didn’t think I was struggling because I was actually pleased with how I was playing.

“I was contributing a lot in the games and was pretty happy with how I was doing. I just didn’t have a goal to go along with it. So when the goals came, everyone relaxed. I’m sure the club would’ve had a sigh of relief as well. It was nice to get that over and done with.”

Before joining on a two-and-a-half year deal from Omonia Nicosia, the 28-year-old had asked Croatian defender Ivan Runje — a former team-mate in Cyprus — to fill him in about the club so he and his long-term girlfriend had an idea what to expect.

However, Sheridan admits that he was a little off-the-pace in the first couple of weeks due to the varying demands of the league he had left and the one he was joining.

“It’s not that I was unfit but there was a big difference in the fitness levels I needed in Cyprus compared to here,” he explains. “Over there, I would’ve considered myself pretty fit and I would be well able to run past people at the end of games.

“In comparison, over here I was starting to get cramp after 70 minutes. But I’ve got that sorted and I feel more confident now.

“I did a little bit extra with the fitness coach and then got up to speed through the training, which is quite hard, and the games helped as well.”

On the standard level, he adds: “It’s pretty high. To compare it to Cyprus, it’s a totally different styles of play. Over there, it’s slow build-up whereas here it’s end-to-end and it’s almost a case that any team can beat any other team.

There aren’t easy games where you know beforehand what’s going to happen. If a team doesn’t win it’s not a big shock. In Cyprus, there are five or six teams that are good and if you don’t beat the rest of them it’s a very bad result. In Poland, you have to be at it every game.”

Sheridan hasn’t been there long enough to pick up the language just yet, but he’s managing to get by.

“Not everyone has brilliant English,” he says. “I’d say half the lads have a good standard and you can get your point across with the others. The coach is always speaking Polish but when they’re going through tactics and he comes to what he wants me to do, he’ll say that in English.

“So whatever I need to hear, he’ll say in English but everything else is in Polish. You’re kind of looking around when they’re saying the rest and you never want to be the first person to do a drill, so I hang back!”

Cillian Sheridan with Martin Demichelis Sheridan contesting a header with Argentina's Martin Demichelis during a friendly at the Aviva Stadium in 2010. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There is a massive month ahead for Jagiellonia as the title race reaches its climax.

The format of the league sees the 16-strong table split in half — into the championship round and the relegation round — with each club playing the other seven in their group once. Points tallies up to that point are also halved.

With five matches remaining, Sheridan’s club sit level at the top with Lech Poznan, while current champions Legia Warsaw and Lechia Gdansk are both just one point back.

And, as if that wasn’t exciting enough, they play all four of those sides over the next few weeks.

“I would’ve had something similar in Scotland,” he says. “It’s almost the same as that except when the normal round of games finish here, they split the points. So if were 10 points ahead, it’s cut to five points.

“This to me is ridiculous as it kind of defeats the point. We’ve got five games left and it’s very tight. It will more than likely go down to the last game, although I’d obviously prefer it not to.”

Sheridan spoke earlier this year about hoping to catch the attention of Ireland’s management team with his good form and Martin O’Neill claimed recently that he is keeping an eye on the striker’s progress.

The squad for two upcoming friendlies [with Mexico and Uruguay] and June’s World Cup qualifier against Austria will be named in Dublin on Monday, and he would love the opportunity to return to the international fold.

It’s seven long years since the centre forward earned the last of his three Ireland caps and Sheridan believes he has become a much more rounded player in that time. If the call-up doesn’t come, however, he won’t let it get to him.

I definitely feel that I can play at that level,” he adds. “In Cyprus, I was playing well and similar to how I’m playing now but I always knew coming here would be a step up.

“Almost straight away, I realised that I was still performing at the same level — at a level that I think can be good enough for the international team.

“It’s not up to me to pick the squad, so I can’t get too sidetracked about it. If I start playing like I’m trying to impress somebody that may or not be watching me, I don’t think it would be good for me so I’ll just have to keep my head down and hopefully keep performing well.

“If they come and watch me and they’re impressed, or if they don’t come but they’re still impressed then perfect. Hopefully that’s the case.

“Looking back at the last time I was in the Ireland set-up and now, I feel like a totally different player. That would be the one thing I want to show people.”

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Ben Blake

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