Early in 2010 Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh was visiting an old friend in hospital when a lady recognised him. She introduced herself as a Kilkenny native and asked if he saw any team stopping their drive for five senior hurling All-Irelands in a row.
“From the way she was talking I could tell she only wanted to hear me say ‘no, there’s nobody will beat them’,” he recalls now. “I just pointed to a few other good teams who might get in their way, that there was a bit to go before winning the All-Ireland. That cut no ice with her and she asked if my friend would have an opinion.” The other man said: “Did you ever hear the story, ma’am, that there’s many a slip between cup and lip?”
Ó Muircheartaigh then introduced the lady from Kilkenny to John Egan, who was the Kerry captain when they came within minutes of five in a row themselves in 1982, and then the lady from Kilkenny sailed on, perhaps with the first seed of doubt gnawing away.
Tomorrow in the Mardyke two representative Cork and Tipperary sides face off in a game ahead of an evening in Rearden’s Bar remembering Egan’s life and career. Ó Muircheartaigh’s memories of the Sneem clubman, who died in 2012, go back almost half a century.
“I was doing television commentary on the minor games and always took notice of minor teams as a result,” he says.
“In 1970 Kerry came through Munster and got to the All-Ireland final, which they lost to Galway after a replay. John was on the Kerry team that time and was an exceptional player even then.
“You could see his ability to read the game, and I’m convinced to this day that he’d make switches himself - sometimes he’d be centre-forward, sometimes full-forward, and the switches were always to good effect.
“He’d notice something in the opposition and he’d make the move, for the benefit of the team.
“He had fantastic balance, used both feet, a great side-step. Gay O’Driscoll of Dublin often said he got him on the ground once with a shoulder, but John hopped back up and put the ball over the bar.”
Four years afterwards he was hitting one of the goals that would become his trademark. In that year’s league final against Roscommon Kerry looked beaten as the clock wore down but Egan struck late to send the game to a replay.
When Ó Muircheartaigh dropped a friend to the train station he met some of the Kerry county board officials there.
“They were saying, ‘ah, at least it’s good to see it go around’. They’d left with a couple of minutes to go, and I had to tell them that John Egan had given them another day out.
The lazy description of Egan was ‘underrated’ (though it was used so many times that he was in danger of being the most highly rated underrated player of all time). “I remember Páidí Ó Sé complaining about John one time. They were lined up for an All-Ireland final one time, ready to get the word to get out on the field, and all that was in Páidí’s head was the game and the opposition and all of that, when he got a tug on the sleeve.
“Páidí turned around and Egan, cool as a breeze, said, ‘where are you going after the match, Páidí?’ He never got worked up.
The match was part of the day but it was only part of the day.” His skills were never in question. Egan got the score that turned the tide in 1978 in the Kerry-Dublin, after all.
“That was the start of it - a long free from Mick Spillane broke to Pat Spillane, and John finished off the move then. A crucial goal again.”
The Kerry icon spent most of his working life in Cork, working as a garda in Kildorrery for many years. Despite torturing the men in red and white on the field, Ó Muircheartaigh always detected a genuine fondness for Egan in his adopted home.
“The Cork lads were always very good to him. Niall Cahalane was always a great opponent of Kerry but he was very close to John, a great friend of his. I brought John to Croke Park one time and the person supposed to meet him there was delayed - when I dropped John at his seat Niall appeared out of nowhere and spent the game sitting next to him.
“The same year, 2010, Cork won the All-Ireland, and myself and John went to watch them training one evening. In fairness to (Cork manager) Conor Counihan, when he and the players heard John was there they made a point of coming over to the stand to him and saying hello.
“John was a very shy man but he appreciated that, it meant a lot to him that they’d come over and talk to a Kerryman, but he was very likeable.
The 1916 Exhibition hurling game between Cork and Tipperary throws in at 3pm tomorrow in the Mardyke and the memorial evening begins at 5.30pm in Rearden’s, admission free to both events. For more, go to reardens.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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