John Egan finally realises his Premier League ambition
Cork native has navigated his way back to the top tier after Sheffield United were promoted
John Egan during Republic of Ireland squad training in Faro, Portugal. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
After enduring a couple of anxious summers in his career, John Egan intends savouring this one after finally realising his Premier League ambition.
The Cork native has navigated his way back to the top in a fashion typical of the modern-day Irish footballer; getting cut by a Premier League club without playing a first-team game before negotiating the tiers on a gradual basis.
Heading for 27 in October, the defender is finally there, having formed a vital part of the Sheffield United side which earned promotion last month. His presence among the five-man defensive system preferred by manager Chris Wilder not only allowed their wing backs such as compatriot Enda Stevens to join the attack but contributed to the keeping 21 clean sheets.
Egan endeared himself further to the Sheffield United’s fanbase by leading the celebrations; a video of him singing a customised song from the stage spreading far and wide on social media.
He, along with Stevens and David McGoldrick, even got the blessing of Mick McCarthy to prolong the promotion party into a trip to Las Vegas before linking up with the Ireland squad earlier this week for the training camp in the Algarve.
“Like many of my Sheffield United teammates, I’ve had to bounce back from setbacks in my career,” said Egan. “Most of our squad came from down the divisions, be in League One or Two, and we’ve had to battle our way into the Premier League.
“Nowadays it’s just really hard to go straight into a Premier League team without having experience of games behind you.
“I was at Sunderland wondering why I didn’t make the bench, but it is more difficult for a centre-back to be given their chance, especially as the team were in relegation fights.
“Football is hard, it’s not rosy all the time. I had a summer of uncertainty after Sunderland released me, not knowing where I’d end up. The offers weren’t necessarily flooding in.”
Egan had to make do with moving to Gillingham. Reflecting now, he feels it was the making of him; a springboard to establish himself for entry into the shop window. Brentford were the buyer, and two seasons in the Championship attracted an approach from a rival.
“I went to Sheffield United last summer because I felt we had a great chance of making the playoffs. We ended being promoted automatically.”
Now comes the tough part. Incidences of success like that enjoyed by Wolves last season are rare for newly-promoted teams, particularly for clubs with inferior budgets.
Egan didn’t need to watch Manchester City’s recent whitewash of Watford in the FA Cup final to appreciate gaps do exists in the Premier League.
“I wouldn’t say it’s scary, more like excitement,” he said about next season. “Football is about wanting to compete with the best. Okay, Watford got hit for six and you have to accept that these results can happen.
“Our aim in the first season will be to avoid relegation. That’s just the nature of the Premier League. A certain style was successful in getting us promoted and we’re not going to change that approach.”
Above all, Egan intends enjoying the elevation. “I’ve always believed I was good enough to play in the Premier League. I felt that way on the day Sunderland released me.
“We can see by the four teams in the European club finals that the Premier League is the best in the world. The Championship is a good standard too, and my few years at that level have prepared me for this step-up.”