A cult hero for both Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday fans in the 80’s and 90’s Ireland’s John Sheridan is perhaps the most underrated Irish players ever. A midfielder of real class it makes you wonder what he might be worth in today’s over inflated transfer market. Sheridan as a player was the real article, a down to earth working class Irish lad who was brought up in Manchester. The only attention he drew to himself was that of being a midfield schemer with sublime passing ability, vision and that penchant to grab the odd goal or two as well. His prowess at dead ball situations is something that can also be attested to by fans of the English league clubs he made competitive appearances for.
Sheridan’s displays for Leeds United from 1982 to 1989 are fondly remembered by those at the Elland Road club where in 230 appearances he scored 47 goals. Despite the club languishing for a period of his time in England’s second division Sheridan’s immense contribution places him firmly within the realm of greatness attained by fellow Irishman Johnny Giles during the seventies. In fact the two players were not dissimilar by any means. For a start both were supremely creative, always willing to start play from the back by dropping off from midfield and taking the ball from the full backs to start another exciting move. This ran contrary to the all-pervasive lump it up to the big front man culture. The awareness of space, of what was around them, the picture they had in their minds of where their pass would go before they themselves had received the ball was mesmerising. Sheridan excelled at finding little pockets on the pitch which allowed him to pick the telling pass to create space in an overcrowded midfield or indeed to prise open defences. It was Sheridan who played that wonderful defence splitting pass to David Kelly to score against England in the abandoned “friendly” at Lansdowne road in 1995.
World Cup Hero
Isn’t it ironic then that it was Jack Charlton, one of the main protagonists of “percentage football”, who was to give Sheridan most of his international caps. The former went so far as to start the latter in all of Ireland’s World Cup games at USA ‘94. Sheridan’s selection may have been down to his impossible not to notice, even for Charlton, performances in the final qualifying matches where despite ending the game in the team that lost three one to Spain at home Sheridan’s goal ultimately ensured our qualification. His superb performance in the last friendly match at Lansdowne Road before the team headed to USA was capped by a screamer of a goal from the edge of the box undoubtedly helped his cause. The goal was so typical of Sheridan and not unlike his League Cup Final winning goal for Sheffield Wednesday against Manchester United at Wembley in 1991. At USA ‘94 itself Sheridan was a key man in the Irish midfield that defeated Italy in New Jersey. He also played well in the other group matches, especially the Norway game which saw him try an audacious chip over the keeper only to see the ball just clear the crossbar. In the opening game against Italy two moments really marked his performance. He had a powerful shot that crashed off the crossbar but there was another moment when he dropped off from midfield to demand possession from right back Gary Kelly. On receiving the ball Sheridan delivered the ball with accuracy to a closely marked Tommy Coyne up front. This led to the ball breaking off Coyne for Ray Houghton to loop it over the Italian keeper into the net. It is in this very instance we can see the classy Sheridan, always looking to create, seeking alternatives to the negative conformity imposed by British coaches.
Looking at James McCarthy today in the Irish midfield, a technically sound midfielder with a fine passing range, you feel his game would be enhanced if he were to take the initiative like Sheridan did and not feel constrained by the persistent tired idea of not taking a chance in the wrong part of the pitch. After all, Barcelona having been taking chances/playing the ball from the back and through midfield for years and they haven’t done too bad have they! It would surely be a joy is to see John Sheridan in his prime performing in the intellectual surroundings of Spanish football today.
John Sheridan played for Ireland at senior level 34 times. It is testament to his ability and courage that he was able to navigate such narrow philosophical football waters. Players of his ilk helped nurture the idea that the game we love is really the beautiful game. Thankfully he continues to espouse this philosophy as a manager. Sheridan the player was important because his performances conveyed the message that Irish players could be both classy and effective footballers. We could be expressive in our play and use wit and imagination rather than simply muscle to break down teams. It is this that makes John Sheridan for me a true Irish legend and my all-time favourite player.
- Author: Shay Dunphy