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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Martin Breheny: One of the best ever, not just a county legend

Published 09/04/2012 | 05:00

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IF the true value of a sportsperson's stock is valued by the esteem in which he or she is held by those around them, John Egan was pure gold.

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"I have no hesitation in the world in saying he was the best left full-forward I ever saw. He was an unbelievable talent," said Mick O'Dwyer, who managed Kerry during the glory era when they won eight All- Ireland titles between 1975 and 1986.

"Not only was he one of the best footballers ever to play for Kerry, he was one of the best to have played the game anywhere," said Mike Sheehy, a man who manoeuvred with Mr Egan for many years in a forward line that took invention to new levels.

And while Mr Sheehy, Pat Spillane and 'Bomber' Liston may have had higher profiles, Mr Egan's quiet, methodical efficiency was just as important to the project.

"Some of the goals John Egan scored were unbelievable. He had a great knack for getting them when we needed them most," said Mr O'Dwyer.

Mr Sheehy recalls him as being the complete team player.

"He was an absolute joy to play with. He must have been an absolute nightmare for opposing corner-backs because apart from having a massive amount of talent, he was as strong as a horse. When he got the ball and went for goal, he took some stopping," he said.

Surrounded by superstars and with a quiet, self-effacing personality, Mr Egan's role in Kerry's success story probably never quite got the credit it deserved among the public, but his colleagues always knew how crucial he was.

"We certainly knew what John brought to the scene. I can rarely remember him having a bad game for club or county. In fact, I remember one game where we (Austin Stacks) were playing Sneem. We had a lot of county players on the panel and would probably have been expected to win handy enough but John nearly beat us on his own. He was that good. When he was on his game, he was virtually unmarkable," said Mr Sheehy.

One of Mr Egan's greatest attributes was his ability to solo at sprint pace without allowing his marker an opportunity to flick the ball away. That was due to his perfect soloing technique, whereby the ball travelled very little distance from toe to hand.

His economical style, coupled with his huge power and determination, made him extremely difficult to counteract.

A man with an uncanny ability to anticipate how play would develop, he always had the confidence to back himself in tight situations, a quality that saw him score many crucial goals.

He reserved his very best performances for the big championship occasions, especially against Cork and Dublin, who were Kerry's main rivals during much of Mr Egan's career. They were joined in the early 1980s by Offaly who, after two failures against Kerry in 1980-81, finally gained revenge in the All-Ireland final of 1982.

Offaly wrecked Kerry's five-in-a-row ambitions, which was particularly devastating for Mr Egan, who was team captain. His date with destiny as the man to bring the Sam Maguire Cup back to Kerry in the five-in-a-row year was cancelled in the most dramatic circumstances when Seamus Darby scored a late goal that swung the game Offaly's way.

"A lot of us played badly that day, but not John. He could certainly hold his hand up and say the 1982 defeat had nothing to do with him, but that wasn't his way. Always the team man," said Mr Sheehy.

By 1982, Mr Egan had won five All-Ireland senior medals (1975/78/79/80/81) and added another in 1984. It was an unforgettable era for Kerry, who dominated Gaelic football with a near-perfect blend of skill, strength, endurance and ambition. Mr Egan was at the heart of it, imposing his special brand of menace on unfortunate defenders.

Irish Independent

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