"I don't think people in Ireland realise just how tough it is to play here," Irish APOEL FC striker Cillian Sheridan told UEFA.com as the former Celtic FC man reflected on his first year in Cyprus. "A lot of people back home thought coming here was like going on a sunny holiday, but the league here is really competitive. Last season was definitely my hardest. We played a lot of games, not just in Cyprus but also in Europe."
Now settled, the 25-year-old believes APOEL are well-equipped for a prosperous European campaign, one that starts next week against FK Rabotnicki or HJK Helsinki.
This time last year, under Paulo Sérgio, APOEL lost on away goals to NK Maribor in the third qualifying round and were subsequently beaten 3-2 on aggregate by SV Zulte Waregem in the UEFA Europa League play-offs. However, fortune smiled on the club as they were drawn to replace Fenerbahçe SK in the UEFA Europa League group stage following the Turkish side's exclusion from the 2013/14 UEFA competitions. APOEL finished third in Group F, but Sheridan feels his side are in better shape as they approach the start of their 2014/15 campaign.
"Last year we qualified for the Europa League by chance, so this year we are looking to book group stage football on merit and by winning games, but that won't be easy," he said.
"The difference now is that we have brought three or four players into a team that has been playing [together] for almost a year and all the players are familiar with one another," explained the three-times capped Republic of Ireland forward. "Last summer a lot of new players – including myself – came into a new team with a new manager and with a new style of playing. Making a new team doesn't happen overnight."
Among the arrivals this close season are Cypriot internationals Giorgos Efrem and Alex Konstantinou, and Brazilian defender Carlão from FC Sochaux-Montbéliard. Furthermore, Argentinian playmaker Tomás De Vincenti, instrumental in APOEL securing the league and cup double last term, has made permanent his loan from Olympiacos FC. "The new players that have come in will improve and strengthen the team," continued Sheridan.
Having started his career at Celtic, the former Gaelic footballer landed in Cyprus last summer following loan spells with Motherwell FC, Saint Johnstone FC and Plymouth Argyle FC, and stints at PFC CSKA Sofia and Kilmarnock FC. He was not an instant hit, but things changed for the better when Giorgos Donis succeeded Paulo Sérgio in mid-October and the tall frontman began to hit his stride, scoring key goals as APOEL ended the season with two pieces of silverware.
Vindication, perhaps, for a player who has been willing to travel to broaden his footballing mind. "I didn't know what to expect when I first moved here," said Sheridan, who registered five times in 26 league appearances last season. "It was the same when I moved to Bulgaria [in August 2010], but I came to Cyprus with the idea of being willing to adapt to different cultures.
"I've spent many years living outside of Ireland, having also lived in the UK. The only difference now is that I'm living further away."
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