Finn Harps soccer legend Jim Sheridan is to be inducted into the Donegal Sports Star Hall of Fame at the 40th awards function in the Mount Errigal, Letterkenny next Friday night, January 29th.
The Rathmullan native’s senior soccer career spanned 16 seasons most of which were spent at his beloved Finn Park. Jim’s honour comes seven years after his late father John was also inducted into the Donegal Sports Star Hall of Fame
It means another little piece of history will be made as it will be the first time in the history of the awards that a father and son have been recipients of one of the biggest honours in Donegal sport.
It’s the second time that Jim has been a Donegal Sports Star winner but you have to go back 38 years to 1978 when he scooped the soccer award.
A towering centre-half Sheridan was totally dedicated and determined in every game he played. He signed for Finn Harps in 1970 after spending a couple of seasons at St. Patrick’s Athletic. Jim earlier had brief stints at Sligo Rovers and Irish League side Coleraine whom he joined after Northern Ireland international Allan Hunter transferred to Ipswich Town.
But it was with Finn Harps that Sheridan was to become a ‘cult hero’. He combined his football with a full-time career in the Gardaí where again he rose to the rank of Chief Superintendent in the Sligo District before retiring in 2002.
The biggest influence undoubtedly on his playing career was his late father John who was a legendary figure in Rathmullan, organizing and managing teams for many years in the famous ‘Summer Cups’. “My early memories are playing football on the ‘Putting Green’, also down at the beach and over at ‘Deeney’s Corner,” Jim said.
“Home was a soccer house. Daddy was managing and planning for games. My mother looked after the playing kits. I remember getting to the final of the Ramelton U16 one year where we were beaten by Letterkenny.”
His first taste of competitive senior soccer came in a Summer Cup semi-final in Milford where he replaced the injured Fr. Michael Sweeney. He had a brief spell at Sligo Rovers before coming back to enjoy his first big success as a member of the 1967 Swilly Rovers FAI Junior Cup winning team.
Both Pat’s and Dundalk wanted to sign Jim but he opted for the Dublin outfit on the basis that they were guaranteeing him a first team place right away. In 1969 Jim was approached by Patsy McGowan about signing for Finn Harps who had been given the green light to join the League of Ireland for the first time.
“I had played with Patsy when he was a goalkeeper with Rathmullan and my father also knew him well from those days,” Jim added.
In a golden era for League of Ireland soccer Jim enjoyed 13 seasons at Finn Park and in all but one of those years he was captain. “It was a very competitive league. There were big games nearly every week against the likes of Cork Hibs, Waterford, Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk,” he said.
“We were getting up on 9,000 fans for some of the home matches. Ballybofey was the place to be in those winter Sundays. There was no competition from GAA or other sports and there was no soccer on TV.”
It was a great Harps side and there was a great bond between the players. “I’m getting the Hall of Fame award but a lot of the credit must go to those players who I depended on. Likewise they depended on me.”
Jim Sheridan is very proud of the fact that in the space of 10 years Harps played in the UEFA Cup four times which included games against Aberdeen, Everton, Turkish side Bursapor and Derby County.
“Not many League of Ireland teams have that kind of record in Europe.”
The one regret he has is that a really good Finn Harps teams of that era just failed to win the league title finishing runners-up an agonizing three times. Undoubtedly the highlight of his career at Finn Park was captaining Harps to their FAI Cup win in 1974.
“Holding the FAI Cup that day as Finn Harps captain was a huge honour. Looking down on our huge crowd of supporters on Dalymount Park filled me with great pride” Jim said.
He was to play a further nine seasons with the Ballybofey club only hanging up his boots at the age of 38 in 1983 due to a back injury. During almost all of his senior career Sheridan also captained the Republic of Ireland Amateur International soccer side.
When time allowed Jim also enjoyed playing GAA. In the 1970s he won a Leitrim Intermediate Football Championship medal. He actually played for Leitrim in a Connacht Senior Championship match against Mayo in 1972.
Jim says the support of his late wife Patricia, was so important to him. “Patricia was such a great support to me because I was away so much through football and work. Without that support it just would not have been possible.
Sadly his father John also passed in 2011. It would have been some picture of the first father and son to have won Donegal Sports Star Hall of Fame Awards.
Jim has two sons John (42) and Jim (40), who played with Sligo Rovers and Athlone Town.
His brother Paddy also played for Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers.
Jim’s siblings include sisters Mary McKeever (Butlersbridge, Co. Cavan), Bridget McGlynn (Woodlands, Letterkenny) and Bernadette McPhilmey (Letterkenny) and his brothers Josie (Buncrana), Anthony (Derry) and Paddy (Rathmullan).