JOHN Egan was just six-years-old when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the winning goal for Manchester United in the Champions League final.
Egan was so captivated by the Red Devils forward that he had the Norwegian’s name emblazoned across the back of his Manchester United shirt.
Fellow Cork native Roy Keane was also a hero but that goal elevated Solskjaer in the young Egan’s eyes.
Little did he know that 20 years later the two would be pitting their wits at Bramall Lane and Old Trafford following Egan’s promotion to the Premier League with Sheffield United and the Norwegian being at the Manchester United helm.
Egan said: “I think that was when I first started to watch football properly - in 98/99 - and Solskjaer scored the winner in 99 in the Champions League.
“I used to have him on the back of my shirt so to be fair it’s ironic that he is their manager!” Egan was a cornerstone in the Blades defence as they won promotion to the Premier League last season.
Now the South Yorkshire side will visit the likes of the Etihad, Anfield, White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge.
There is one trip that Egan is especially relishing.
“Man United away will be a big one for me because I grew up supporting Man United so that will be a good one,” he said.
“Then obviously there’s another few against the top teams that are the ones you really look forward to.
“Obviously they are going to be tough but you get to test yourself and I think everything in this league is going to be a real test.”
Promotion to the top flight prompted great celebrations with Egan leading the players in his own version of Allez Allez Allez with the film going viral.
That was followed by a trip to Las Vegas before the partying came to an end and reality dawned with a return to training.
There was a week away in Portugal in early July where they all faced Terror Tuesday with the players pushed to their absolute limits in a series of brutal training exercises designed by manager Chris Wilder and assistant Alan Knill.
The trip also took in a game against La Liga side Real Betis with the Blades securing a 1-0 win thanks to a goal by Egan’s fellow Republic of Ireland international David McGoldrick.
Since then they have travelled to Burton, Northampton and Chesterfield for pre-season friendlies with newly-promoted Championship side Barnsley set to play host on Saturday 27 July.
Wilder’s side kick off their campaign with an opening-day trip to Bournemouth where they will come up against former Blade David Brooks, the Wales international.
As well as the Cherries, the Blades face Crystal Palace, Leicester, Chelsea and Southampton in their first five games which, on the face of it, offers an opportunity to secure points early on.
Egan though would not be drawn on what the Blades’ goals are, saying: “There are targets we have and we keep them close to our chest.
“But game by game is probably the way to take it.
“We are just focused on Bournemouth away the first game of the season and every pre-season game leading up to that has been a chance for people to impress. That is the way we are looking to it really.”
Sheffield United are favourites with some to make an immediate return to the Championship.
They have so far been shrewd in the transfer market bringing in Luke Freeman, Phil Jagielka, Ravel Morrison, Lys Mousset and Republic of Ireland striker Callum Robinson with Dean Henderson set to return for a second season-long loan.
However, Wilder – with two promotions with his boyhood team in the last three seasons – could well spring a few surprises on the top flight.
He was also voted Manager of the Season by his peers ahead of the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
People may also be taken aback by the Blades’ unique style of play with their use of overlapping centre backs which meant the opposition were pushed back with Egan the bedrock in defence.
Former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand has been complimentary on social media but there seems to be little awareness or respect for the Blades’ style last season that so bamboozled Championship opposition.
Egan, however, pays little heed.
He said: “I don’t know and I don’t really care to be honest.
“I know how good we are and everyone here knows how good we are so I don’t read much of the press and what they think about us.
“Whether they think we are really good or really bad I don’t know.
“All I know is what I think of the team and what everyone here thinks of the team.
“Last year we got a lot of plaudits from opposition players that I know personally, they are always complimenting us.
“That’s the only kind of thing I see. I don’t really see or read a lot of the papers so I wouldn’t really know.
“We have a lot of belief in the squad and the football club and we do things the right way and last year it was there for everyone to see.”