Darragh Egan’s mentor plan gave Kiladangan room to improve

RTÉ’s “Room to Improve” brought Darragh Egan to national attention last February when renowned architect Dermot Bannon assisted him and his wife Sarah to renovate their home in Puckane.
Darragh Egan’s mentor plan gave Kiladangan room to improve

Hurling folk would have already known him as the inter-county forward turned goalkeeper. A member of the Kiladangan side that won the inaugural All-Ireland intermediate club hurling title in 2005. A member of the Kiladangan side that won the All-Ireland senior sevens in 2011.

But what they might not have been aware of was how integral Egan has been in transforming his club. Just 30, Egan is the principal of Kiladangan National School. From Eamonn Kelly in 2000 to Liam Flannery in 2004, there have been individuals who have helped bring Kiladangan to within 60 minutes of a first county title since 1938 and their current centre-forward is among them in more ways than one.

“Darragh Egan has a massive profile in the club,” says chairman Michael Ryan. “He was juvenile club chairman four or five years ago and he brought in the thing that all of the senior panels get involved from U6s, U8s, U10s, U12s, U14s and U16s. In fairness to him, that has brought back all the seniors involved with the young kids and at the end of the day they’re the ones looking up to them every Sunday.

“We’re playing now in Semple Stadium, thank God. There are two guys involved from the senior panel with every under-age team and it really brings the kids out because they’re watching these guys. Darragh was the man that really brought that element to the club.”

As difficult as it may have sounded to entice players to contribute even more to the club by way of mentoring, Egan, now in his 16th senior year, said it wasn’t. “We’ve a massively tight-knit hurling community in the village. It was a massive stepping stone to get the lads back involved. You go to any Kiladangan under-age match in the last five years and the senior lads will be doing water, will be doing hurleys, encouraging the young lads. Our lives are literally based around the hurling field at the moment.”

Having no senior county representation this year has certainly helped Kiladangan, Egan has no doubt. “I remember one night down in training and we had 52 on the field and that’s absolutely savage.”

But with the young leaders they are developing it won’t stay that way for long. Last Sunday, they had 10 lads aged 21 or under starting – David Sweeney and Willie Connors were prominent on Willie Maher’s Tipperary U21 team this year.

“David Sweeney did a fine job on Bubbles (John O’Dwyer in last Sunday’s semi-final),” enthuses Egan. “In my opinion, one of the performances of the summer was what David Sweeney did against Patrick Curran down in Walsh Park in the U21 Munster final and Patrick Curran is an absolutely serious hurler.”

Even if it is the monarchs Thurles Sarsfields they face, Kiladangan know their arrival at this stage is no fluke having won three of the last four North Tipperary championships. It’s a far cry from their humble situation in the late 1990s. As Egan recalled: “I remember going to a junior A match 20 years ago, going behind the goals. They were our first team and we were getting hammered by Roscrea’s second team.

“We didn’t even win a junior A but we decided to go up to intermediate. Eamonn Kelly took over and it all started from there, a county minor team in ’98 and they were the fulcrum for our team for the next 15 years.

That they only had a seven-day build-up from beating Killenaule means the hype won’t be as great around the area. “Traditionally, over the years we have worked better on that week-on-week situation. It seems to suit us. It will be manic for the week but we just need to stay away from that.”

The arrival of the Liam MacCarthy Cup in Egan’s school last Tuesday helped distract attentions. But the only silverware on Kiladangan minds is the Dan Breen Cup. They have given themselves enough reason to believe it’s within their grasp.

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