CORK'S John Egan stresses it will take a collective effort to salvage the World Cup campaign for “outsiders” Ireland.
Egan, from Bishopstown, was convalescing from surgery on a dislocated toe in March while Ireland’s fifth attempt at ending their World Cup finals drought suffered a couple of early, and probably fatal, blows.
Serbia ripped Stephen Kenny’s defence asunder before Luxembourg further exposed them by creating the better chances in a deserved victory.
The task of addressing a seven-point shortfall on group leaders Serbia and Portugal will be parked during this week’s leisurely surrounds of a training camp in Girona, situated on the outskirts of Barcelona.
Of most pressing priority is avoiding another slippage in Andorra on Thursday before Ireland tackle a nation they once had the measure of, Euros-bound Hungary, next Tuesday.
But, for someone of Egan’s ambitions, who will be 33 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, allowing the 2022 version to drift from his sights is difficult to accept.
“We’re definite outsiders now,” said the Sheffield United centre-back, a certainty to regain his place for the next qualifier in Portugal on September 1.
“It was far from the start that we wanted but we’re only two games in and you have to keep going no matter what the situation is.
“It’s going to be tough, there’s no doubt about that, but if there was momentum, you never know.” Along with the influx of new faces for this gathering, Kenny was thrilled to see a familiar one in Egan.
Having nailed down a starting spot during Mick McCarthy’s reign, Egan remained there for the opening three games under Kenny last autumn.
Misfortune has haunted him since; his closeness to a confirmed Covid-19 case on the plane back from the Euro play-off defeat in Slovakia ruling him out of the next two games.
His November window encompassed even fewer minutes as he was substituted 14 minutes into the friendly against England with concussion.
Then came his foot injury and, to crown a forgettable season, relegation to the Championship.
As ever, though, the Bishopstown battler prefers to channel his thoughts forward, refusing to dwell on the injustice of him holding a mere dozen caps.
“It’s not something that bugs me too much,” he reasons. “I’m not one for looking back, wishing I’d won a certain amount of caps or thinking I should have done this and that.
“It was probably a harder squad to get into previously. A lot of those experienced players have retired in recent years and there’s always a transition with every team.” For personal reasons at least, Egan is even more enthused that the necessary overhaul has coincided with an enhanced Cork presence in the squad.
Caoimhín Kelleher, Adam Idah, Chiedozie Ogbene, and Egan even roped Jayson Molumby and Lee O’Connor from neighbouring Waterford onto their six-a-side team while they awaited Conor Hourihane’s delayed arrival after Swansea’s Championship play-off final.
“We’re getting there,” he said, wearing a broad smile. “One of the three teams in training was Munster-based. There were a lot of Cork faces in it with another, a good Bandon man in Conor, coming in later.” Another Rebel, Ogbene, is someone Egan fully expects to make an impact during his first international assignment.
He was waiting to welcome his fellow Leesider to life on the English professional circuit upon his arrival from Limerick in 2018.
Egan added: “I have known Chiedozie for a long time. He came into Brentford when I was there and is a really good lad.
“I’ve found him to be a really good professional, a great athlete who always wants to improve.” As one of the elder squad members, the son of the late great Kerry footballer of the same name feels a responsibility to set the tone, both on and off the pitch.
“It’s important to try to set a good example around the place for the young lads,” he noted.
“Football can be a long career, so if players do things right from an early age, they’ll give themselves the best chance of succeeding.
“I remember arriving into my first Ireland squad at 24 and it can be a daunting experience.
“But here you have a player like Séamus Coleman, who has been part of a top-six Premier League club all of his career. When he comes into the camp, leading by example, it rubs off on everyone else.”