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Saturday 15 December 2018

In a league of his own

Irish striker Sheridan on path to Polish title glory

Polish chance: Irish striker Cillian Sheridan, pictured in action with Polish league leaders Jagiellonia Bialystok
Polish chance: Irish striker Cillian Sheridan, pictured in action with Polish league leaders Jagiellonia Bialystok

News from his native country about a national shutdown in response to snowfall last week made the man from Cavan smile.

In Cillian Sheridan's current place of employment, eastern Poland, they cope with the white stuff a bit better.

It was minus 15° when his team, Jagiellonia Bialystok, played away to Legia Warsaw last week in a key game at the top end of the Ekstraklasa (Polish league).

"When I go on the weather app on my phone it will say it's -12° but you get to the pitch and it's easily a few degrees colder than that," says Sheridan, who joined Jagiellonia 13 months ago. "It's different here but they expect the cold and the snow, and nothing stops here because of the weather, life goes on."

The cold certainly didn't bother Sheridan or his team-mates as they beat Legia 1-0 to go top of the league table, and they won again on Monday night to move three points clear of Legia..

Cillian Sheridan facing PSG’s David Luiz during a Champions League game for APOEL Nicosia back in 2014
Cillian Sheridan facing PSG’s David Luiz during a Champions League game for APOEL Nicosia back in 2014

It's a rare taste of success for modest club Jagiellonia, who spent much of their history in the lower leagues.

But, having finished second in the league last season (thanks in no small part to Sheridan's goals after a mid-season move from Cyprus) they have real ambitions about winning the league title.

Former Celtic player Sheridan (28) is already a rare creature: an Irish player who has won a league title with a European club. Only Liam Brady (two scudettos with Juventus), Mickey Walsh (two Portuguese titles with FC Porto), Don Givens (Swiss title in 1987) and Sheridan (two league medals in Cyprus) have won a European league. So for Sheridan to land the league in Poland would be a real achievement.

"The celebrations last season when we finished second were good so I can only imagine what it'd be like if we win it," Sheridan told The Herald. "Our goal was to do better than last season, and now it feels real, it's not too big a leap for us. The Polish league is a hard one, it's not as if we can go and win every game for the rest of the season but we are in good shape."

While the team are in good shape, Sheridan's own story this season is more tricky: first-choice striker last season, lately he has been shunted down the pecking order.

Interest

Since the Polish league resumed last month, after a winter break, Sheridan's club have been on fire, five straight wins. But the Ireland man has played only a bit-part role with just three sub appearances.

It was reported over the winter break that Jagiellonia were trying to ditch the Irish player, reportedly one of their biggest earners, but he says that's not the case.

"Things were up in the air over January/February, the club were not trying to offload me but other teams could see that I wasn't playing as much, teams asked if I was available and there was lots of interest but I stayed. I never got the feeling that I wasn't wanted," he says.

"They did bring in a new striker so I knew I wouldn't have the same role as before, it's a set back for me personally but I keep going and try to do well when I am called into a game. It's a big change from 12 months ago but the team are flying so personal feelings don't matter as much.

"We have won five in a row and conceded one goal, we're top of the league so I can't go and knock on the manager's door and ask why I am not starting. I just have to wait for a chance but I am not feeling angry, the team are doing well and the mood overall is good."

His Polish language lessons remain on the long finger ("I do plan to learn but it's a hard language") and he gets by with key phrases and pointing.

Having already played club football in Bulgaria and Cyprus, the life of a rover suits the boy from Baileborough.

"You get used to it. If you go some place new and stick it out when things are going bad, you will do it again as you are set up to try things. It's not all sunshine, there are tough parts to it but I like it, living in different places, trying different things, it broadens your knowledge of life."

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