Cork soccer star John Egan will switch from Stamford Bridge to Croke Park this weekend

Cork soccer star John Egan will switch from Stamford Bridge to Croke Park this weekend
Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke battles for the ball with Sheffield United's Luke Freeman and John Egan.

THE name John Egan is synonymous with the All-Ireland final.

Egan won six All-Ireland medals for Kerry between 1975 and 1984 as well as 11 Munster Championships.

The Egan sporting tradition continues with John junior, who will play for Sheffield United at Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday before flying to Dublin to meet up with the Republic of Ireland squad ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Switzerland and Bulgaria.

Once there the 26-year-old hopes to be among 80,000 at Croke Park on Sunday willing Kerry to victory while denying Dublin their fifth successive victory in the process – although he has yet to find a ticket.

As both player and fan this weekend, Egan will don the shirt of the underdog although there was little hesitation when asked who faces the bigger challenge, the Blades or his father’s old team?

“Probably Kerry. Everyone thinks Dublin are going to win the 10-in-a-row never mind the five-in-a-row. But I think Kerry will be quietly confident that they can cause an upset.” 

Kerry themselves were denied the five-in-a-row in 1982 thanks to Seamus Darby’s late goal in the dramatic final against Offaly on a day when Egan senior was captain, a topic that was somewhat off-limits in the Egan household.

“A little bit, yeah,” Egan smiled. “If you wanted to annoy him you could bring it up. He wouldn’t be talking about it too much.

“It’s amazing – you can win six All-Irelands and the one you think about the most is the one that got away.

“It’s funny how sport works. Especially playing football – if you win a game you’re buzzing and you don’t really think about the game too much but if you lose a game you dissect it for the whole week up until your next game. That’s the way sport is.

“But it’s crazy – Kerry have won so many All Irelands and they still can’t get 1982 out of their heads.” 

Egan, who grew up supporting Kerry at football and Cork in hurling, was a keen sportsman and starred for the Bishoptown underage team in the GAA but it was the 11-a-side game that started taking precedence in his mid-teens.

It was when Sunderland, then managed by Steve Bruce, offered him a contract that he had to make a decision to commit himself, one that his father supported.

“He was a 100% behind me,” he said. “I remember having a few conversations with him saying ‘I want to follow in your footsteps, I want to play GAA’ and he basically said, ‘Look, whatever you want to do, do, but if I was you I’d give football a go because I think you’re good and I think you’d do well at it’.

Picture: Cillian Kelly
Picture: Cillian Kelly

“That played on my mind. I went to a few clubs but Sunderland was the only club where I felt I could go away and not feel as homesick as I might have been at other clubs because there was a few of us who went over at the same time.

“I signed for Sunderland basically because it was the most enjoyable place I went to. And I don’t regret the decision one bit, I loved every minute of it.” 

 Egan had just completed a loan spell at Sheffield United in April 2012 when manager Martin O’Neill asked him to travel with the first team to Everton.

However, the next day he received the most devastating of news that his father had died, Egan then just 19-years-old.

“Football was the last thing on my mind and I was on the first flight home. And, obviously, people on that flight going back to Cork knew who my dad was and knew who I was. I was just, head down, hood up - just devastated. Yeah, it hit me hard. I went home for two weeks.

“Martin O’Neill and everyone at Sunderland were just brilliant. They said, ‘just stay home as long as you want’.” 

He returned to Sunderland, immersing himself in football, and although the pain may not be as intense, it will always be keenly felt by Egan and his family.

“It never gets fully better,” he said. “It gets easier and there are people who deal with this all the time. Life can be cruel. Yeah, just time. He’s up there looking down on me, I know that. And that’s the main thing.” 

Time and maturity has also given him an insight into his father’s achievements.

“When you’re growing up he’s just your dad and you kind of see that (his GAA career) as secondary and something in black and white. Something just on a tape.

“Now, growing up, going to All-Irelands, seeing how hard they are to come by, definitely, you appreciate what he did for the game and did for the people of Kerry. I remember a few years ago, I brought the lad from Spain who was in my youth team at Sunderland, he came back to a Cork county final with me.

“It was Castlehaven-Nemo and he was looking around at the crowd and he was like ‘how much does this player get paid? How much does that player get paid?’ This was only a Cork county final. He was like ‘oh my god, they’re crazy’.

“He couldn’t believe that they were doing this, there was a big crowd, something like 10 or 20,000. He thought we were all crazy.” 

 Egan played an integral part in Sheffield United’s promotion last season and has adapted well to the Premier League.

Chris Wilder’s side have taken four points from three games against Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Leicester although there was regret at last week’s 2-1 defeat by the Foxes with Egan believing the Blades sat off their opponents in the first half.

“So far I’ve felt like I’ve been comfortable, I felt like I’ve done well,” he said.

“I think there are things we can work on and get better at but I do think we’ve stepped up and as a team we have looked like we belong in this league.

“That’s down to all the training we’ve been doing, we’re ready, we’re fit enough and we’ve got good players so it’s just a matter of consistency now.

“It’s one thing doing it for two or three games in a row but you have to do it over 38 games and you have to keep coming back every week with the same bite and the same hunger and I think that’s what we have got here.” 

Watching himself on Match of the Day with his family was “cool” but Egan insists the team are not in awe of anyone and is bewildered by the notion that some teams appear beaten before the whistle has even blown.

“I don’t know how you could even step onto the pitch,” he said. “If that thought crept into my head I’d retire I think.

“I’ve never once gone out, no matter who I played, never once gone out and thought we’re going to lose.

“Even when I was six years old, ever since then. I don’t think there is any point in playing sports if you don’t think you have a chance of winning or don’t believe you can win.

“Everyone’s different but I think as far as I’m concerned every game you go it’s 11 men against 11 men and no matter what badges are on the shirts you’ve got to earn the win.” 

The Blades travel to Stamford Bridge ahead of Chelsea on goal difference and, while acknowledging the Blues are one of the Premier League big guns, Egan reiterated his belief that his side will seek nothing but a positive outcome.

“They’ve been up around the top of the league but we have seen already this season, Leicester went there and were the better team at Stamford Bridge so they are not invincible.

“I think we’ve got a good squad and we’ve got a good way of doing things so I think if we can go there and we can play to the max of our ability I think that we can give anyone a game and we are more than a match for everyone so we’ll be looking to go there and get a result.

“We are not looking to go anywhere to make up the numbers and every game this season we are going to go and we are going to try and do well and get a result.”

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