John Egan says it was only meant as “a bit of craic” and that it took him a mere 20 minutes to compose the words – and then only in his head, not on paper – so probably no-one was more surprised than Sheffield United’s Irish defender to see his celebratory ode to the club’s promotion to the Premier League go viral.
Taking a temporary seat in the shade as the sun beats down on Ireland’s Algarve training camp, the Corkman outlines the genesis of the unexpected internet hit in which he is to be seen leading his team-mates in a raucously joyous performance.
“I was on Twitter one day back in December, just scrolling,” he explains, “and I saw some team, I think it was Letterkenny IT in Donegal, and they won a cup and they were singing a version of ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’. And I just thought, that’s class, like. They were at the back of the bus belting it out. And I thought it would be class if we went up and we had one.
“I was with my friend Anthony Ford, who plays for Rotherham, and I don’t how I came up with them but I just came up with the lyrics and he was just, like, ‘yeah, you’ve got to sing that if you go up’.
For all the humour, Egan’s anthem does contain one pointedly defiant reference to players who are wrongly written off ‘as journeyman’, a description which could be reasonably applied to the man himself and his fellow Irish internationals, as well as a few others, in the Blades team.
“Definitely,” he says. “Sheffield United’s squad is full of players who’ve played in League One, even League Two. There is nothing wrong with playing in League One or League Two. And it shows you the quality is there in those leagues. We’ve players like Didzy (David McGoldrick) who has obviously played Championship most of his career.
“Didzy came to us on trial because the Ipswich manager didn’t fancy him or whatever and he’s gone on to be our player of the season in a promotion-winning campaign. You just need to be given a chance in the right team. I think a lot of us, we’ve come that route and we’ve obviously got quality and we’ve come into an environment and a team in which we can play our best football.”
You might even say that, after encountering various setbacks in the course of his career, beginning with a broken leg in 2012 and later being let go by Sunderland, the son of Kerry Gaelic football legend John, is now singing his own redemption song.
“You’ve just got to back yourself really,” he reflects. “Football is hard, it is not all rosy all the time. For me, when I was out of contract, when Sunderland released me, it was a summer of uncertainty. I didn’t know where I was going to go, the offers weren’t necessarily flooding in. You’re kind of thinking, hoping, that you get that offer. There are a lot of footballers going through that this summer, people aren’t really aware of that. If you back yourself and you’re lucky enough to get a chance as well, it all becomes worth it.”
And especially now, after Sheffield United “seemed to take the league by storm”, as he puts it, in the second half of the season and deservedly went up.
“I think probably the clean sheets got us over the line,” he reflects. “We won a lot of games 1-0 in the second half of the season. I’m not just saying that because I’m a defender but we got over 21 clean sheets and I think, when I look back on it, that really helped us to kick on.
“I remember we played Villa and conceded three goals in the last 10 minutes and after that the concentration just went to a new level and we didn’t concede a goal for eight games. At the time, it was a really bad feeling conceding three goals to Villa but it turned out to be the best thing that happened.”
What a scoring run is to a striker, he observes, clean sheets are to defenders.
“Yeah, it becomes a habit, definitely. Eight in a row in the Championship is really good because you’re coming up against teams every week who have a chance. It’s probably the best league in the world in terms of that. Any team can do anyone on any day. I think the Championship definitely gets you ready for anything.”
And he’s confident that includes being primed for the Premier League, even if the sight last weekend of Manchester City putting six past Watford in the FA Cup final might have been designed to put the fear in teams who will be new to that calibre of opposition next season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s scary, it’s more excitement,” Egan says. “You want to test yourself against these teams, you want to go out and play against the best, that’s what football is all about.
“We’re looking forward to it. We’ve got a style of football that has been successful for the football club, for the two years before I came and very successful this year. We’re not going to change that, we’re going to play our own game. Hopefully, we can step up to the plate and get results. I’d be lying if I was saying we’re going to win the league. Last year the aim was to get promoted, next year the aim will be to stay up. That’s just the nature of football and the nature of the Premier League. “
As with club, so with country. When John Egan addresses Ireland’s Euro 2020 prospects, he could still be talking about Sheffield United.
“We’ll leave no stone unturned, we’ll be very prepared,” he says. “You’ve seen the last two games. Gibraltar was madness with the wind and the pitch. It wasn’t even a game of football, it was mental. And we did really well to get a win there. And then the performance against Georgia was brilliant, a really, really good performance.
“You know, we’ve got good players here. People can write us off all they want but I think we’ve got a good squad and we’ll be fully prepared under Mick (McCarthy) and TC (Terry Connor). Hopefully now we can now attack the next two games and see what happens.”