Ambitious John Egan eager to push on to the next level
Son of Kerry legend delighted with his first call-up to Republic of Ireland senior squad
John Egan: “At the start of the season one of my big goals was to break in to the squad.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
As childhoods go, John Egan’s was more confusing than most.
“I grew up with a Cork accent with a Kerry jersey on,” he said, explaining the most awkward of divided loyalties.
He even risked going in to school with it on where he’d get a right “slagging”. And on the six occasions Kerry won the All-Ireland during his school days, he’d arrive with “a big smile on my face”. It’s a wonder he got out alive.
Cork by birth, a Kerry supporter by the Grace of God, then. Or, more accurately, by the grace of his late father, John, a Kerry legend who won six All-Irelands and five All Stars, playing for the county between 1973 and 1984.
It was John junior’s mother who was the family’s soccer player, Mary winning a League of Ireland medal with Cork Rangers and representing Ireland at underage level. Egan could have followed either parent’s sporting path in the longer term.
“Growing up in Cork you play every sport. I was playing football, Gaelic football, hurling, basketball, everything. When I was very young Gaelic was probably my number one,” he says, his father was the manager at his Bishopstown club.
But then Sunderland came calling for the teenager in 2009 and he was on his way.
“And when the opportunity comes to go to England, you’re buzzing for it. If I’d stayed at home I’d probably have a Gaelic career, but I chose football and I was delighted with it. And I’d say my Gaelic background definitely helped.
“When you go over you’re in to an academy and it’s all kind of tippy-tappy, the ones who get stuck in kind of get noticed. You’re able to use your body from Gaelic and hurling, and obviously there’s the fitness too.”
“And then I broke my leg. He was very good to me, he was the first one in the hospital the next day, which was a nice touch. The first thing he said to me was not to worry about my contract situation, it would be sorted. Once I knew that it was a case of getting the head down and getting the rehab going.
“It didn’t ease the pain, but it put the mind at ease. Unfortunately when I was out injured he was let go and it was hard for me coming back with a new manager and starting from scratch. But he was very good to me.”
And five years later Egan has cause to be grateful to O’Neill again, this time for his first call-up to the senior international squad after an encouraging season at centre-back with Brentford in the Championship who he joined last year from Gillingham where his form had earned him a place in the League One Team of the year.
“At the start of the season one of my big goals was to break in to the squad, now I have my foot in the door I have to try and impress in training, I have to try and earn the respect of the players, that’s kinda number one for me.”
He might have to wait until next week’s friendly with Iceland for his debut. Should he make it, he can wear his Irish jersey if he visits his alma mater some time soon. It might be safer than sporting the other green, white and gold.