“It does help that we’re both from Cork and we can understand each other.”
John Egan chuckles as he assesses his working relationship on the pitch with Kevin Long, a pairing which had a successful outing in the friendly victory over Bulgaria and which, if Shane Duffy fails to make the cut, could well be reprised against Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday.
Sheffield United’s Egan also delights in the broader Leeside representation in the current Irish squad.
“Yeah, it’s brilliant for Cork. There’s four of us: Me, Conor (Hourihane), Longy (Kevin Long) and Browney (Alan Browne). Seanie (Maguire) wants to be a Corkman but he’s a Kilkenny man!
“It’s great for us to be involved. We’ve all known each other since we were young so it’s brilliant. Kevin and I are from similar areas, around 10 minutes from each other, Togher (Egan) and Ballyphehane (Long). We would have crossed paths a lot of times when we were younger.
"We never played together or against each other because he would have been a couple of age groups above me but we would have known each other, his friends might have known my friends, so we would have come across each other a lot. It’s unique to have that many Cork people. It’s brilliant that we’re all involved.
“I remember playing against Conor. He played for Bandon in hurling, I played for Bishopstown and we used to play against them all the time.
I used to train with him in the Emerging Talent Programmes and then he signed for Sunderland and I signed for Sunderland and, you know, our first Ireland squads were the same Ireland squads. And then we made our Premier League debuts on the same day.
“I would be close to Conor, I’ve known him since I was 15, 16. It’s great to see one of your mates doing so well and, when you’re doing well too, it makes it all the sweeter.”
And especially since both players have had to do it the hard way.
“When you have to go down the leagues and work your way back up, it is tough,” Egan reflects. “Playing 46 games a season, hoping you get a break — obviously you have to do it yourself, you have to try and get that break yourself and get that move yourself — but it’s good, it’s enjoyable.
"It might be League One or Two, but you are still playing football every day. Conor obviously had that belief and I had that belief in myself that we could get ourselves back up the ladder, and it’s fantastic we are there.”
Does he think the Cork connection brings anything extra to the Irish squad?
“It brings the banter anyway,” he laughs. “It’s just good. In the summer we might get a couple of days off during a three-week camp and we’d all get the train down to Cork and back. It’s good to have the lads around, really, because they feel just like your friends at home. It’s good to have that in the squad.”