GAA in shock as Kerry's 'unsung hero' dies aged 59
WARM tributes have been paid to former Kerry footballer John Egan, whose death rocked the GAA world yesterday.
Mr Egan, who was a member of the great Kerry team of the 1970s and 80s, passed away unexpectedly at his home in Bishopstown, Co Cork, as he was getting ready to attend Easter Sunday Mass with his wife Mary. He was 59.
A spontaneous round of applause broke out at Austin Stack Park in Tralee yesterday, following a minute's silence in his memory ahead of the Kerry v Mayo national league clash.
Tributes to the "unsung hero" of Kerry GAA were led by Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister Jimmy Deenihan, a former team-mate and lifelong friend of Mr Egan's.
Famous faces from the great Kerry team he played in -- Pat Spillane, Jack O'Shea and Paidi O Se -- also spoke of their sadness at his passing.
Mr Spillane described him as one of greatest corner-forwards ever in Gaelic football, one who never craved the spotlight. "He was a gentle giant and a warrior, and we've lost two of that great team now, John and Tim Kennelly (who died in 2005)," he said.
"He was a very unassuming man but someone who was never fazed by All-Ireland finals. I often shared a room with him before a final and it was like a county league game with him. He was as cool as breeze despite the hype."
Jack O'Shea said: "I played in a county final with him in Tralee in 1984. He was a great footballer, probably the most underrated footballer of the great four-in-a-row team. He was a real gentleman, it never went to his head.
"His greatest strength was his strength and his balance, and he had tremendous skill as well. He was hard to knock off the ball and any corner-back that marked him would vouch for that. He was a great player."
Mr Deenihan said: "I knew John from our minor days in the 1970s through to 1982 and we developed a very strong friendship. I was also his opposite number in training and I would have marked him on at least 300 occasions over that time."
Mr Egan, who won six All-Ireland senior football medals with Kerry, underwent surgery a number of weeks ago to have stents put in place and was understood to have been making a good recovery.
His health also suffered a setback in 2010 when he injured himself after falling down stairs at his home in Bishopstown.
He was a member of the senior intercounty panel from 1975 to 1984 and during that time was awarded with five GAA All Stars.
Born in Tahilla, near Sneem, Mr Egan joined An Garda Siochana as a young man and spent his career in Cork.
Mr Egan captained the Kerry team that lost to Offaly in the 1982 final when they had been hoping to make it a record-breaking five-in-a-row.
"That really hurt him. That would have been his crowning glory and it turned out to be his biggest disappointment. It hurt us all but I think it hurt John even more," Mr Spillane added.
Paidi O Se said that, in his estimation, Mr Egan was the best corner forward he had ever seen.
"In a lot of people's book he was the unsung hero of the team of that era. A lot of people felt he never really got the due recognition he deserved.
"I will remember him as a magnificent gentleman, who never fell out with anyone," Mr O Se said.
"John was everyone's friend. He was a very gentle individual and very shy, but he was universally liked," Mr Deenihan added.
Mr Egan is survived by his wife Mary, daughter Maureen and his son John, who plays with Sunderland but is currently on loan to Sheffield United.