He was the man Mayo could count on to keep the scoreboard ticking over back in the mid nineties and into the early part of the noughties, he won three Connacht senior titles with Mayo, picked up a league winners medal with the county in 2001 and finally got to lift an All Ireland title with Salthill Knocknacarra in 2005 in the club final on St Patrick's Day. Maurice Sheridan was the man Mayo could rely on for the big day, showing cool nerves to slot over free after free in their run to the All Ireland final 20 years ago. In that campaign, Sheridan registered 1-33 over the six games, kicking an average of 5.5 points per outing, no bad return for one player in any side. His fingertips, or more exactly kicking tips, have had a role in this Mayo side's march over the past number of years, with the former Balla man acting as free taking coach with the Mayo minor side back in 2009 that contained a certain Cillian O'Connor.
As the rain poured down on Croke Park the last day out Sheridan knew what it was like for the place kickers for both sides, and how difficult the conditions and simple things like playing with a new ball can be for a free taker on the biggest day of the year. "A fact that's overlooked for a free taker is that firstly it's a very hard pitch underfoot and secondly the balls on the day of a final are brand new as well, there's a coating on them and in the wet it's not the easiest thing to hit and connect and nail off the ground, but it's the same for both teams really. I think the teams that are are able to score from near the D and out near the 45 from frees or play they'll win the game. The long distance shooting and point taking will be extremely important"
Coming out of Croke Park after the game was drawn the feeling was there is a lot more to come from this Mayo side Sheridan told us this week, "It was mixed emotions really. I thought they played well in defence, we were exceptionally good in that line and closed them down really well, I think an improvement on the forward line is needed as well in the middle of the field. Overall I'd be happy enough, but I feel there is room for improvement too."
As for the man to whom he gave some free taking tips when he was a minor, when he got on the ball when it mattered the most he was the man he wanted to see on it, but there are plenty others more than able to do the job to he feels. "He was the right man in the right situation, but there are other players who can do it as well and it's time for them to step up and show it. We saw the likes of Jason Doherty can score from distance too, I thought he'd a fantastic game the last day and he tackled and worked so hard up front as well, Andy Moran stepped up when asked during the game and I expect big improvements from the other guys as well for the next day."
This Mayo side have been on a mission since 2011 constantly driving on each year and Sheridan has nothing but admiration for everyone involved in the squad and what they have all put in over the past half decade. "Over the last number of years, they have been exceptional. I remember going up to the semi-final in 2011 and Cillian O'Connor scored a brilliant goal and Donal Vaughan that day also stood out, and I think on that day even though they lost it has all the hallmarks of a young team that was coming through and were going to set extremely high standards for themselves, and they've carried it on and they'll carry that through the next day in the replay we all hope. They are a very professional group in the way they prepare and carry themselves. It'll be like every big game you play in Croke Park, these guys have been up there and between the league semi-finals and championship games, must be 20 odd times over the last few years. They have experience of the big days and there are certain things that have to go well on the big day and that's what counts, and they all have experience of those days."
Great memories have been made so far
While his own side came from nowhere to make a run to the final in 1996, there were plenty of inspirational figures still around to lead them back then he told us. "We did kind of come from nowhere, but the inspiration for us back then was the guys who'd been there before in 1989 and showed us we could get that far in the competition. We had a few of them left around then like Liam McHale, Dermot Flanagan, and Anthony Finnerty." And this current generation have done it on their own terms and have their own leaders who have given their all and created inspirational figures for the future he thinks. "But taking all things considered these have been very good times for Mayo over the last few years, the standards that they have risen to each year, the expectation that they have created among everyone and the players themselves most importantly, they have given us some great days out over the past four or five years, they don't owe us a whole lot, I've nothing but admiration for this group of players."
As for his confidence that come Saturday evening as the sun is setting in Dublin, will Mayo be finally ending 65 years of hurt? Sheridan is fully confident, "I am, I was honestly very confident before the first game, but again, it's just all about marginal gains in a few areas, we have the players to do it and they don't fear the opposition and they have beaten them before in the championship and in the league is well and they've got no fear of the Dublin team at all."