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'It was powerful and quite moving' - Jason Sherlock's speech to his father's ashes in South African temple

In a documentary that airs tonight on RTÉ One, Jason Sherlock travels to South Africa to meet his half-brother and visit his father’s final resting place.

THE MOST POWERFUL scene in the upcoming Jason Sherlock documentary comes right at the end, in a South African temple.

dsdsss Jason Sherlock in Jayo.

An emotional Sherlock is speaking to the ashes of his late father Denis Leung, as a monk stands beside him. The former Dublin footballer is in the country where his father was murdered in an attempt to find out about the family he never realised he had. 

He meets his half-brother and they share their memories of Denis, before Sherlock heads to the street where their father lost his life and then onto his final resting place in the temple. Sherlock confronts they lack of a relationship he had with his father growing up and speaks about his hope that he made Denis proud.

Ronan O’Donoghue, the film’s director, was in the room to witness the touching moment. 

“None of us knew that was going to happen,” he tells The42. “I certainly didn’t get any inkling from him that he thought he was going to say anything.

“I tried not to walk into that temple with any expectations really because it’s a very personal moment from a guy I’ve only really known for a few months. But we got to know each other well and I think we got to understand each other and what we were doing.

“It was a strange moment but because we were there to tell the story in collaboration with Jason we all knew it was important that myself and the cameraman were there.

“A weird one but that kind of comes up in our line of work, sometimes you’re there for people’s very deep personal moments and that was one of them. It was a powerful and quite moving moment.”

Jason Sherlock Dublin selector Jason Sherlock. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Later, Sherlock speaks about the sense of calm that came over him after making the trip. “I feel more at ease with myself,” he says. 

O’Donoghue “could see the moment of release” immediately.

“He’s talking to me when he’s saying that stuff at the end and I could see from him that this was a weight off his shoulders,” he explains.

“In that whole journey to South Africa you could see he was just starting to loosen up as a person and feel a sense that there was some unfinished business there in his life that he was finally starting to break down.

“That started for him in the process of tracking down where his father’s ashes were and finding out about his brother. That had all started to happen. But yeah, that was a cathartic moment of release for him, definitely.”

Jason Sherlock takes on Chris Lawn 1995 Jason Sherlock takes on Tyrone's Chris Lawn in 1995. Source: INPHO

The documentary ‘Jayo’, which airs tonight on RTE One at 9.30pm, features plenty of fascinating moments from the life of one of the GAA’s first genuine superstars.

“A lot of footballers have more medals than Jason but I don’t know if any footballer really ever made the impact that Jason made,” says O’Donoghue, explaining what drew him to the 42-year-old as a subject.

“I think he brought the sport singlehandedly to a new level of attention. This one guy did. Because he was so different and then when you feel away at that and the reasons for it there’s a complex story behind why Jason Sherlock made such an impact.

“Because of how he looked, how he was and he was just like nothing that GAA had ever seen. What fascinated us was that we feel he kind of changed the game in a way that nobody else had. There had been more storied and celebrated footballers before him but I don’t think anyone ever pivoted the way Gaelic footballers were seen as much as Jason did.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

From Sherlock’s childhood juggling various sports, to the trial that never happened at Liverpool, the racial abuse he suffered as a youngster, his dramatic rise to prominence in 1995, his subsequent struggles with fame and his coaching career – it’s all covered over an entertaining, fast-paced hour of television.

A year on from the release of his autobiography, Sherlock comes across as very self-aware and a deep thinker. The decision to go down the route of exploring his heritage and family connections was made “ in collaboration with Jason”, according to O’Donoghue. 

“Our early conversations with him were good, were healthy. Jason often talks about himself as being as a mass of contradictions. He’s quite a standoffish and closed off guy as he describes himself, I’m not saying that’s how I find him.

But yet he kind of senses that by going public with certain things about himself it can have an impact beyond himself. So he did think about what going public with some of this stuff would be and what doing it in real time on camera would feel like. 

“I think he saw that if him telling his story was to have an impact and make people think about themselves and how they feel about some of the issues raised, that he had to go all the way. He was all in from the get go really.

O’Donoghue continues: “He’s a deep thinker but I think he thought quickly about it. As much as there were some personal stuff we had to work with him with, he had to contact family members and do all that stuff to facilitate meeting his family out there, he was very open and very generous to do all that.

It was a feeling we wanted to explore what made him who he was. I think a huge part of Jason was a search for acceptance and happiness. That feels like the big themes in Jason’s story and I think they’re universal themes in and out of sport, we’re all looking to belong and be happy.

“I think a lot of what he was examining about himself was all tied up in his sense of identity and a sense of who he was. There was a whole chunk of that missing and to try and summarise a life, it had to be part of it – from his point of view as much as from our point of view as the makers.

“He just needed to kind of have some sort of sense of completion about the his own sense of who he was, where he came from,” he adds. “I think there was a gap by his own admission and a gap in himself that was there because he hadn’t really confronted it.

He had thought a lot I think about how he felt about his father and how his father was the reason for him being of mixed ethnicity and that being the reason he had a lot of anger as a kid and had a hard time and got racial abuse as a kid. 

“Even now as he’s in his early 40s, I think he was kind of still shaken up by that and I think he needed to front it. I was necessary to try and tell an honest story of his life to see him go through that. He was very brave to do and but also he was adamant that we should.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

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Kevin O'Brien

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