For someone experiencing their first taste of senior international football yesterday, there was an air of familiarity which made John Egan feel right at home in his new habitat.
Manager Martin O’Neill was in charge when the Cork native hit his peak at Sunderland, assistant Roy Keane influenced his decision to join the Black Cats in the first place, and a host of players previously shared a pitch with him for club and country.
That doesn’t entitle Egan to a free pass from the initiation song ritual after dinner tonight.
“I’ll have to keep it under wraps and try not to remind anyone about that,” said Egan, more in hope than expectation.
“Brentford was probably the worst, because I wasn’t even allowed pick my own song. My new teammates picked the song and I’d have to try learn it. It was a Scissors Sisters song and I didn’t have a clue of it. I didn’t know any of the words and it all went pear-shaped. They made me sing it again the following day, so maybe the Irish boys will be more lenient.”
Egan has overcome far bigger obstacles to succeed in his drive to become a full international. O’Neill and he struck up a strong rapport at the Stadium of Light five years ago, the then teen shuttling through the ranks to the periphery of the first team.
The next juncture on his development, a loan stint at Bradford City, was halted by the misfortune of a broken leg. O’Neill was his first visitor in hospital the next morning, assuring Egan of a new contract, but the Derryman’s own survival prospects were extinguished by a harsh sacking in March 2013.
Even this season, having earned a move to the Championship following two years with League One Gillingham, Egan’s lot has been varied. Scoring a brace on his home debut and netting an improved contract six months on from agreeing initial terms represent the high points, yet he found himself on the bench for last weekend’s win over Burton Albion.
Still, given that O’Neill is missing his two first-choice central defenders in Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark, along with potential deputy Paul McShane, Egan knows he’ll have to be ready should he be presented with a surprise debut against Wales.
“I’ve played over 30 matches for Brentford, so it’s been a decent season,” he said. “I think we probably should be closer to the play-offs, but, personally, I’ve come in and played most of the games.
“One of my big goals after moving to the Championship last summer was breaking into the Ireland squad. I know Martin has been to a few Brentford games, so my performances have got me here.
“I’d known Martin from my time at Sunderland, but you can never really expect the call-up, because you have to work hard for it. I’ve to try to earn the respect of the players and the staff with my performances in training. That’s the priority. I’m in the door now and I can’t expect too much. It’s a big game to come into, but I’d love to get a few minutes on the pitch.”
Winning a full cap, be it on Friday or in next week’s friendly against Iceland, would be considered a testament to his late father’s support. Though John Egan senior gained his legendary status from playing Gaelic, he encouraged his offspring to pursue his dream of a professional football career before he passed away five years ago.
“It’s times like this, when you’re getting called up to the national team, you wish he was around,” said John of his father, a six-time All-Ireland winner with Kerry.
“I was brought up in Cork but wore the Kerry jersey to school. I’d be very good friends with Barry-John Keane and was following Sunday’s game against Dublin online. They thought they’d have a good crack off Dublin and they did, but didn’t get the job done. So onto the next one.”
It’s a motto Egan can associate with.
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