Assured Egan eager to step into the breach for Ireland

Defender has shown his quality with newly-promoted Sheffield United in the Premier League

A month ago, he was joking with James Collins about their duels in the lower leagues in the pre-match media for Ireland's game with Bulgaria.

One serious injury to Richard Keogh later and John Egan knows he is likely to be handed a central role in the business end of this qualifying campaign. This could well be the Corkman's moment on the international stage.

On the club front, promotion to the Premier League with Sheffield United had already given the 26-year-old an opportunity to test himself amongst some of the world's best forwards.

As if to provide supporters with some reassurance, the FAI took the slightly unusual step of tweeting his stats for the season so far yesterday but, given his form, there were plenty who felt he should have been playing for Ireland on a much more regular basis already.

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Easygoing, it seems, and affable, Egan just comes across as happy that, after such a long journey, he is in what he regards as a good place, career-wise.

“I’m playing with confidence at the moment but I’ve always had belief in my ability,” he says after featuring in all eight of United’s opening games of the club campaign.

“You’re happy you’re playing games against the top strikers and it does give you added confidence but I’ve not done anything yet really, I’m only starting out.

“For me, I’m just the same as I’ve always been; keeping the head down trying to improve and see where it takes me. I’m going to come in as I always do, get a good week’s training under my belt and see what happens.”

What seems almost certain to happen is that he will start in Tbilisi, most likely alongside Kevin Long, with whom he is already quite friendly. The rapport they seemed to strike up on the pitch last month, when both advanced their causes in Mick McCarthy's eyes, is helped, he feels, by their relationship off it, something that goes back to well before they started meeting in Ireland squads.

Age groups

“He [Long] would be a couple years older but we are from similar areas around ten minutes from each other . . Togher [Egan] and Ballyphehane [Long]. We would have crossed paths a lot of times when we were younger.

“We never played together or against each other because he would have been a couple of age groups above me but we would have known each other; his friends might have known my friends so we would have come across each other a lot. It’s unique to have that many Cork people and even someone who lived two minutes away. But it’s brilliant that we’re all involved.”

A start this Saturday will mean a change of system for Egan who has been playing in a three with Sheffield but he seems a little perplexed by the suggestion that that might daunt him.

“Nah, I played a back four all my career until I signed for Sheffield United,” he says. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a back four, or a back three or back five, I can adapt. At Sheffield United we have a unique way of playing a back three, anyway. It’s a bit gung-ho, it’s organised chaos but it’s brilliant.

"We keep quite a high line in most games although obviously it's different when you come up against the big-hitters like Liverpool, etc. But Mick has us drilled in training, he wants us to be on the front foot and put teams under pressure. It suits us. We're Ireland, and that's what all the best Irish teams have been like."

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times