LAST September, Sky Sports did a feature on John Egan, where he was filmed at St Vincent’s GAA club in Sheffield.
The GAA connection was obvious because of Egan’s father, the legendary John Egan who won six All-Ireland medals with Kerry.
When Egan Jnr was asked about his late father, he clearly became emotional. “You obviously go through a slump and tough times,” he said. “But I’m just lucky to have him as a Dad and to have learned so much from him.”
When Bishopstown’s Brian Cuthbert was interviewed by Joe.ie recently about Egan’s career, he spoke about their special father-son connection, which Cuthbert witnessed first-hand when teaching Egan in school and coaching him in the Bishopstown club.
“When you talk to John, he still has a sense that his Dad is still there, that his Dad is still watching him, and his Dad is still advising him,” said Cuthbert. “And that’s a lovely way to think of his Dad.”
Egan is making a huge name for himself now with Sheffield United. His father always has been, and still clearly is, a massive inspiration but sons often seek to impress their fathers, trying to follow the same steps they have taken along similar journeys. That desire to stoke and ignite a father’s pride is often even more pronounced when elite sport is part of their genetic inheritance.
Some sons resent the constant comparisons and subsequently rage against the incessant expectation to be as good as, or better, than their fathers. Pedigree may pass on the talent but deciding what to do with it will ultimately decide the journeys those sons take.
The GAA has always been defined by families, where bloodlines flow from one generation to the next, passing on traditions and talent like heirlooms.
That was never more evident than in the 2018 All-Ireland hurling final. Four of the Limerick starting team that afternoon – Nickie Quaid, Seán Finn, Gearóid Hegarty and Seamus Flanagan – are sons of former Limerick players - Tommy Quaid, Brian Finn, Ger Hegarty and John Flanagan. Three of that Galway starting team – Gearóid McInerney, Joseph Cooney and Johnny Coen – are sons of former Galway players – Gerry McInerney, Joe Cooney and Tommy Coen.
It’s unlikely an All-Ireland final ever produced so many sons of former players but sons will invariably be as much inspired, as overburdened, by what their fathers achieved on the sporting fields. And a significant amount of current inter-county teams are now populated by sons of former players.
The focus always narrows on an individual when they are the son of an icon. It narrows even further again when the son suggests he could be special like his father.
Egan never had that same intense focus on him because he pursued a soccer career but it’s far more difficult to avoid the glare for sons of GAA icons trying to forge their own path.
The Tyrone public were thrilled to see Peter Canavan’s son, Darragh, make his senior debut in 2019, but the decision in April of that year to release him back to the U20s was widely regarded as a more prudent move, especially when Canavan will hope to have a long senior career ahead of him.
Of course, it won’t lessen the pressure on Canavan whenever he does arrive on the scene. Aaron Kernan, former Armagh player, once spoke about trying to follow in the footsteps of an iconic father. Joe Kernan was one of the best footballers Armagh ever produced but his status was elevated to a whole new level when Kernan managed Armagh to their first senior All-Ireland in 2002.
“With Crossmaglen, I never felt any pressure being Joe’s son,” says Aaron. “But I did with Armagh. We had just won the All-Ireland everybody was giving their opinion on who should be on the panel. As somebody new and trying to break through, that was always in the back of my mind. It’s not that I had personal doubts. I always felt I was good enough, but I still felt that I needed to prove myself.”
Kernan’s position was unique but comparisons are always inevitable. The secret to any son trying to follow a father’s legacy is to be inspired by that legacy as opposed to being weighed down by it.
Paddy, Fan and Philly Larkin are unique in that they are three different generations of All-Ireland medal winners but Kilkenny have always played the generation game well, from Ollie and Michael Walsh, to Pat and PJ Delaney.
Dublin’s modern footballing dominance has certainly been inspired by their family heritage; Dean Rock, James McCarthy, Bernard Brogan, Jack McCaffrey, Kevin McManamon and Con O’Callaghan are sons of fathers who had represented Dublin at the highest level before them.
Having such a high number on one county team is unique. Having such a large proportion on a Dublin team underlines the power of GAA family heritage and lineage because it defies population scales and trends.
Participation levels in Gaelic football have exploded in recent years but the game will always be communal to a point. A sense of place and community has always strengthened those family connections. Dublin’s rich link to the past reflects how family values still remain as strong and as durable as oak.
The wheels just keep turning. The next generation keep coming. The family name will invariably frame much of their profile, but sons will always try to forge their own path.
And create their own identity as they go.