A recent visit back to Sneem, to see a bronze statue of his legendary father unveiled, has pushed Brentford and Ireland defender John Egan to aim even higher this season, as he bids to create his own sporting legacy at the start of a new campaign.
John Egan Snr, a GAA icon and one of the all-time greats of Kerry football, may no longer be with us but he continues to inspire his son, who has chosen soccer for his career and is making strides in the English Championship, which kicks off tonight, a week ahead of the Premier League.
The 24-year-old enjoyed a breakthrough season last year, playing regularly at centre-back for west London-based Brentford and earning two caps for the Boys in Green. Now a summer trip back to his roots has refocused the Cork-born star who began his career as a young man at Greenwood FC.
“Seeing that statue was a big moment,” he said. “When it’s so close to home, and it’s your dad, you take it in even more. He is going to remembered for ever more in his sport and it gives you that drive to kick on and try and be successful too.
“We were all proud Egans down in Sneem that day and we can always go back to the statue and know it will be there. It’s good for me because it gives me that drive to push on and do well.”
There’s plenty for Egan to aim for. Ambitious Brentford have enjoyed a positive pre-season, both in terms of recruitment and results, and are being tipped as one of the dark horses of a Championship promotion race which is almost impossible to predict; and then there’s the dream of a trip to Russia with Ireland in June 2018 too.
“In an ideal world, winning promotion with Brentford and getting to the World Cup would be perfect,” said Egan.
“But in football, you can never look too far ahead, you have to focus on the next game. If I keep my form up like I did last season, and play to a high standard, then everything else comes with it.
“Probably the biggest thing my dad gave me is self-belief. He always instilled that in me from a young age and I think I’ve shown it all the way up. I believe a lot in my ability and I believe I can do well. I believe it can all happen, but it’s one thing saying it and another thing going out there and doing it. So I need to keep my form, keep heading in the right direction and keep working hard.”
Brentford begin their campaign with a trip to newly-promoted Sheffield United tomorrow and will need to overcome far richer clubs, such as Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Hull and Leeds, if they are to reach the top six.
But there’s another dream for Egan outside of soccer — one which would no doubt please his father.
“I’d like to see Kerry go all the way,” he said. “I haven’t been to a game this year but I’ve been following, of course. If they get to the final, I’ll try and nip back for it. I’ve watched all their games and they’ve been good. I think it will be them and Dublin in the final again and hopefully Kerry can win this one.”
In the meantime, there will be a band of Cork locals wearing red and white rather than green, at least on Brentford match days.
“I’ve converted a few family and friends to wear the red and white stripes,” said Egan. “They love coming over to the games. There’s a bit of an Irish Supporters Club going on in Cork and Kerry. There’s even an Irish Bees Supporters Club too and they gave me their player of the year award.
“It’s a family club at Brentford and everyone here is very friendly — whether you’re a player or the chef. Everyone is pulling in the right direction and has the same aim. The whole club wants to get promoted.”
Egan, of course, is no different, and is hoping for international success too, with a World Cup looming.
“Getting my first cap was something I had always dreamed about and it was a very proud moment,” he said. “I’ve got two now and it’s up to me to play well every week for Brentford and get myself into the squad. But you can’t think too far ahead in football. It’s Sheffield United first.”
Sunderland host Derby tonight while Notts Forest host Millwall (both 7.45pm kick-offs).
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