Tuesday 19 September 2017

Roy Curtis: Debut of jinking Damien Duff lookalike shows that Horgan rocket will keep on soaring

Dublin , Ireland - 28 March 2017; Daryl Horgan of Republic of Ireland in action against Olafur Ingi Skulsaon of Iceland during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and Iceland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Dublin , Ireland - 28 March 2017; Daryl Horgan of Republic of Ireland in action against Olafur Ingi Skulsaon of Iceland during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and Iceland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Roy Curtis

Roy Curtis

IT hung like a mushroom-cloud over the Aviva, the fallout from that unspeakable detonation of violence that now threatens Seamus Coleman’s career with a long, grim nuclear winter.

Even 96 hours on, the aftertaste of an evening as poisonous as hemlock - an agitated, foaming and feral Friday night - lingered, its effect pernicious and mood-souring.

The snap of bone, the mutilation of an athlete’s leg, the potential splintering of a sporting life:  It is a soundtrack that can drown out more honeyed, agreeable melodies.

Yet the twin ballads of John Egan and Daryl Horgan’s journey is so inspiring that it demands to be heard.

Egan is from blueblood sporting lineage:  His late father – also John – was among the greatest of all Gaelic football forwards, a titan of the September Road, his stellar career as Mick O’Dwyer’s lethal gunslinger yielding six All-Irelands.

His son, though born in Cork, is propelled by the unbreakable fidelity of tribe: He is a proud Kerry fan.

And now, courtesy of this promotion by Martin O’Neill, an Irish international.  As word filtered through of his made-man status, a surge of pride will have coursed through the population of Sneem, the lovely town where his father refined his skills, became a GAA grandmaster.

For the younger man, the journey to the mountain top has been a test of endurance and persistence as much as talent.

Like Coleman, he has known the Stygian darkness of a serious leg-break:  It sabotaged his Sunderland career, the long journey back to sunlight commencing at Gillingham.

Such a dispiriting ambush might have broken a player striving for a youthful foothold.

Egan captained an Irish U-19 team that included Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick.  While their careers clacked up through the floors towards the Euro 2016 penthouse, John reassembled the pieces of his career at Brentford.

The rave reviews he has received – together with O’Neill’s team selection - offer an eloquent testimony to the body of work which have led him, at 24, to the international table.

Here, he offered moments of excellence, stained by one error:  Caught on the wrong side, in a one-on-one, Egan conceded the free-kick from which the one-time Juventus player Hordur Magnusson opened the scoring.

There were mitigating circumstances:  Ireland’s unfamiliar midfield left him brutally isolated; for Magnusson’s shot, a Viking thunderclap on the home jaw, the defensive wall was weak, at-odds, some players jumping, others remaining rooted to the ground.

Maybe the Coleman hangover had a puncturing, debilitating effect on those in green, perhaps it was the absence of so many first choice players:  But, for the first half, Ireland were sloppy and wasteful, the decision-making somewhere below elite level.

For long, monochrome stretches it was a game bankrupt of any authentic ingenuity.

Of the fringe players, Aberdeen’s Johnny Hayes gamely attempted to seize the baton that O’Neill had held out to him; industrious and striving, one viciously whipped cross from the left-wing would have fit comfortably into a Robbie Brady highlight film.

Hayes gave way to Horgan after an hour, the crowd rising in recognition of the Dundalk old-boy’s continued tumultuous rise.  At the same time, his companion on the journey from Oriel Park to Preston North End, Andy Boyle, took his own giant leap onto the international stage.

Horgan, the jinking Damien Duff lookalike, was quickly dancing menacingly down the left flank, immediately making his mark; looking as if he belonged.

Two sensational dribble-and-cross solos offered Ireland a cutting edge they had previously lacked.

Martin O’Neill’s side looked more potent with that X-factor that has been evident as Horgan brushed against ever higher rungs on the football ladder in recent months.

For Egan, the player Boyle replaced, his assets were equally apparent in this 60-minute audit.

He is accomplished, ambitious with ball at feet. Stylistically, at least, the kind of centre back, who would be more likely to appeal to Pep Guardiola than Jack Charlton. 

In possession, Egan – who took a nasty elbow to the face in the first minute, the resultant eye-wound briefly spurting like an Icelandic geyser - was a triumph of composure, poised and polished on the ball.

That his one mistake played a part in Iceland’s goal and ending Ireland’s long unbeaten run on home soil will madden him; so long as the lesson is absorbed it need not be any sort of lasting blemish.

Short-term, this audition will hardly be enough to elevate Egan above Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, John O’Shea or Richard Keogh in the central-defensive cast.

But as the Ice Men triumphed, there were enough moments of uplift, enough aesthetic promise, to feed the conviction that Egan can carve a career at this elite level.

Sufficient evidence to believe that with this son of a superior corner-forward, a stylist who made Croke Park his summer playground, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

From Horgan, the skyrocket just keeps soaring to ever more dramatic orbits.

On a night when a terrible pall hung over Dublin Four, the Horgan and Egan stories were something worth clinging to.

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