John Egan and Damien Cahalane were huge rivals on the GAA pitch but landed a National Cup together with Greenwood

John Egan and Damien Cahalane were huge rivals on the GAA pitch but landed a National Cup together with Greenwood
The John Egan with his son John and Cork's Niall Cahalane with his son Damien, after they starred for Greenwood in winning the U16 National Cup. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

ONE of them has since gone on to establish himself as top-class Premier League defender and Irish international while the other has landed county medals and worn the Cork colours in both codes.

Yet when John Egan and Damien Cahalane were teenagers they were a dynamic duo for a Greenwood Cork Schoolboys League team that lifted a National Cup.

"We played with Greenwood together all the way up," Egan recalled in an interview with Kerry legend Tomás Ó Sé for Benetti Menswear.

Egan was a prodigious soccer player even in his teens, collecting multiple CSL Player of the Year awards while been earmarked for a professional career. He told Ó Sé that his neighbour Cahalane was talented as a soccer player too.

"He was a really, really good goalie and he probably could have taken it further. We won the All-Ireland at U16. Damo actually scored in the final, he kicked the ball out of his heads and it went the length of the pitch and bounced over the other keeper's head. 

Greenwood goalkeeper Damien Cahalane celebrates his goal with John Egan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Greenwood goalkeeper Damien Cahalane celebrates his goal with John Egan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

"It was a highlight for me," he explained on the Benetti Menswear Instagram feed about their victory over Salthill Devon at the Cross. "There weren't too many Cork clubs winning All-Irelands."

The neighbours, whose fathers were genuine GAA icons, John Egan senior as a deadly Kerry forward, Niall Cahalane as a ferocious Cork defender, played for rival club teams: Bishopstown and St Finbarr's.  

"Me and Damo used to puck the heads off each other in the games, even though we were best friends. It was funny how when we played against each other we hockeyed each other."

Egan was talented in all sports and involved with Cork underage teams.

"It would have been a touchy subject for the old fella if I'd played for Cork. I think that's why he was so keen for me to go off to England!

Teacher and player Brian Cuthbert with John Egan before the county final. Picture: Richard Mills.
Teacher and player Brian Cuthbert with John Egan before the county final. Picture: Richard Mills.

"Before I went to Sunderland at 16, hurling, football and soccer were all the same. My favourite sport growing up was football but if I'd have put my mind to it I'd have probably been a better hurler. Once soccer took off my mind was made up."

John Egan senior coached the Town to a county senior final, where they were beaten by a Nemo team spearheaded by Joe Kavanagh and Colin Corkery.

"Hopefully Bishopstown will get to a county final and I'll be on the first plane back. I was the waterboy for the county final (in '03). Jamsie O'Shea was my idol."

Overall Player of the Year John Egan, Greenwood, at the Evening Echo sponsored Cork Schoolboy League awards in the Rochestown Park Hotel. Picture: Richard Mills.
Overall Player of the Year John Egan, Greenwood, at the Evening Echo sponsored Cork Schoolboy League awards in the Rochestown Park Hotel. Picture: Richard Mills.

His soccer prowess meant a switch cross-channel was inevitable.

"I think I was 14 when I got my first trial. I was playing in some tournament and a scout brought me over. I was at three or four clubs and I got offered a contract from Sunderland.

"There was myself, Alan Cronin from Nemo came over a couple of times, we met up with a few Northern Irish lads and stayed in the hotels together. The English lads are sound but you're kinda coming to take their spot in a way."

Egan brought a tough edge from football to soccer. Picture: Gavin Browne
Egan brought a tough edge from football to soccer. Picture: Gavin Browne

His mother insisted he complete the English equivalent of the Leaving Cert to maintain his education and he settled in after the natural adjustment period and occasional bout of home-sickness.

"Sunderland felt like home and I loved every minute of it. The club was flying it. Niall Quinn was unbelievable and the day I signed he brought myself, my mum and my dad over. They all knew him from the GAA."

The passing of his father in 2012 was a hammer blow.

"I was just turned 19 the October before. It was really tough. Martin O'Neill was my manager and Kevin Ball was the reserve team manager and they told me to stay at home as long as I wanted. I was at home for two weeks and then I went back over to keep busy. It took me a long time to fully come to terms with it."

Unable to break through at Sunderland, he spent various spells on loan at Sheffield United and Crystal Palace, making one appearance with each, Bradford and Southend. A switch to Gillingham offered more game time before a step up at Brentford and the big move to Sheffield United.

As well as being a vital cog in their back three, Egan is a cult-hero in Sheffield

"The fans are class. The whole promotion last year obviously helped. You walk down the street and you see Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday jerseys, not Liverpool or Man United, because it's not that type of city."

He was recently voted the club's Community Foundation Player of the Year and his singing after they secured their Premier League berth last season went viral. He has a tight bond and manager Billy Wilder and the rest of the squad and believes they have a GAA mentality.

Egan and Wilder celebrate promotion. Picture: Molly Darlington, AMA/Getty Images
Egan and Wilder celebrate promotion. Picture: Molly Darlington, AMA/Getty Images

"Our dressing room is probably a bit more GAA because we've a lot English/Irish players with that mentality. We call each other out. It comes from the lads. We want the best out of each other. I can imagine with some teams it's a lot different. Last year with our celebrations it reminded me of a GAA team that way."

Regularly in touch with Cahalane and his friends on Leeside, Egan feels inter-county teams probably train harder, as they've longer gaps between matches.

"If anything they train more because we've more games. In the Championship last year we'd three games a week so a most of the training is recovery, getting your body right. In terms of the volume of stuff they probably train harder at times."

United had been in excellent form until the Covid-19 shutdown, seventh and a win in their game in hand away from overtaking Man United in the Europa League spot. Egan has relished the step up to the elite. 

Tomás Ó Sé, no stranger to marking classy forwards himself, wondered who the best he faced was.

Egan taking on Liverpool's Sadio Mane. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
Egan taking on Liverpool's Sadio Mane. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

"Aguero is unreal. He got about four touches and scored two goals. He's the best striker in terms of finishing but the Liverpool front three, especially at Anfield, can give you the run around.

"After every game, mentally, physically, you're exhausted because the tempo is higher and you're playing against the best players. You have to stay switched on because if you leave someone like Aguero in it's a goal."

On the Irish front, he has a new manager coming in to replace Mick McCarthy, Stephen Kenny. Previously he worked with Roy Keane.

"Roy is obviously a Cork man as well so I'd good craic with him. It was great to be able to work with him. He's sound and he's a legend so you're looking up to him in a way."

Egan was a Cork Primary Games player when in school. Picture: Richard Mils
Egan was a Cork Primary Games player when in school. Picture: Richard Mils

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