Call it ‘John Egan — The Sequel’. The week before last, we were talking to him at Sheffield United’s training ground and, considering his bloodlines, it was no surprise that much of the conversation revolved around the upcoming All-Ireland final.
The world hardly needs reminding that the defender is the son of the late and legendary John Egan. Cork-born but, thanks to his father, steeped in Kerry football, Egan Jnr was looking forward to attending the clash between the Kingdom and The Dubs, and was even contemplating whether to don the green and gold for the big occasion.
The original plan was that he would go to Croker in the company of his Dublin-born Sheffield United and Ireland team-mate Enda Stevens, setting up the tasty prospect of the rivalry on the field finding a mirror image in the dynamic between two Premier League footballers looking on from the stands.
In the end, Stevens couldn’t make it, so Egan attended in the company of family members and Kerry footballer Barry-John Keane. But did he actually wear the shirt?
“I did, yeah, I had it on,” he tells us at the Irish squad’s training base in Abbotstown.
By any chance was it one of his dad’s? “It wasn’t, no, it was a new one. I have a couple of his jerseys, but I wouldn’t really wear them to the games. He was a bit smaller than me,” he smiles.
Egan doesn’t agree with the widely held view that a draw with the 14-man Dubs meant Kerry left it behind them last Sunday week, arguing that the Kingdom’s kids will benefit hugely from that match experience in Saturday’s replay.
“Yeah, I was reading that for about 15 of them (actually 17) it was their first final, so that will definitely stand to them,” he says. “The fact is that they matched the Dubs and, even though the Dubs had a man sent off, up until then I didn’t think there was much in the game. Kerry had their homework done, really. I know that Dublin have a lot to improve on, but I think Kerry have a lot to improve on as well. It’s obviously going to be a big ask to beat Dublin, but Kerry have got to be confident and take a lot of belief from the last day. A lot of people say they left it behind them, but I think it’s only the start for this Kerry team.”
The Saturday date for the replay means Egan won’t be back in Croker next weekend — Sheffield United are hosting Southampton that afternoon — but, after his own game, he’s hoping to catch the action on television at his home in the city. Anyway, that’s five days away and, as Egan is obliged to remind us with a smile: “I’m not really focused on the All-Ireland now”.
Indeed not. Since last Sunday’s game, the centre-half’s focus has been entirely on Ireland’s back-to-back matches against Switzerland and Bulgaria and, from his position on the bench last Thursday, he was thrilled to see another of his Blades buddies, David McGoldrick, give Ireland a comeback draw against the Swiss at the Aviva.
“I was delighted for Didsy to get the equaliser. He’s been playing really well and the goal had just kind of evaded him. I actually said to him in the lift that morning: ‘You’re gonna score tonight’ — I just had a weird feeling — so I’m claiming the assist!
“Ah, it was brilliant, and when you score late to get something from any game, it’s always fantastic. The Swiss are a good side, so it was a good result.”
Barring injury, Egan came into camp knowing Mick McCarthy was never going to disrupt his back four for the Euro qualifier, but there’s now every chance the Corkman will get to add to his own four caps in tomorrow night’s friendly against Bulgaria.
His performances to date in the Premier League have certainly been eye-catching — Sheffield United’s fine start to the season erasing any fears that they might find the step up a struggle.
“What it does is galvanise the whole squad, shows the squad that you can easily play at this level,” says Egan. “If anything, I don’t think we believe in ourselves as much as we can. Coming in, we were a bit tentative as a lot of us had not played in the Premier League a lot — some people, like myself, had never played in the Premier League at all.
“So we’ve started well, but, if anything, we haven’t shown our true game for 90 minutes yet. There is more to come from us. Last year we improved as the season went on, and hopefully this year it’s the same. (Manager) Chris Wilder has been brilliant: he does not have us going anywhere as tourists. He believes that we can get something from every game and that throws the belief into us.”
Not that Egan himself ever lacked self-belief, even in the face of significant setbacks earlier in his career in England. “When you do go through setbacks, it does make you stronger,” he reflects.
“Even when I broke my leg and even when I was released by Sunderland, I still believed that I was going to play in the Premier League. Maybe if I’d said it to someone at the time they would have laughed at me. But I just had that mentality that, at the very minimum, I was going to keep trying to make myself a better player.”
Part of that relentless self-improvement involves consciously setting annual goals, the specifics of which he prefers to keep under wraps.
“I always do that at the start of every season, since I was at the youth team in Sunderland,” he says.
“The night before the first game of the season I stick a few notes in my phone and try to achieve them. And I definitely achieved a lot of them last season by getting promoted to the Premier League.”
One would hardly need to go as far as indulging in espionage to surmise that another of his goals is to add to his appearances in the green shirt.
“I am ready to play,” he declares. “I train hard every day and I try to improve every day, so if I am ever called upon to go onto the pitch, I will be ready. Next year I will be more ready again. I am in a really good time in my career at the moment, and long may that continue.”