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‘You’re hanging up your boots, John, you never will retire. Your ghost will be a legend like the famous Sam Maguire’

CALM, composed and class -- it was a son's simple and moving tribute to his father.

But the great Kerry corner-forward John Egan, pictured right, was not just a hero to his son.

He was a hero to a generation of GAA fans.

Looking out on a packed church peopled with famous faces from a golden era of Gaelic football, John Egan Jnr told how his father taught him how to kick a ball -- but the most important thing he instilled in him was self belief.

"You always told me to believe in myself, be positive and be myself no matter where I go," he said.

"After every chat with my Dad, I felt like I could take on the world."

There was laughter and spontaneous applause in the Church of the Real Presence in Curraheen in Cork when the young footballer -- who is signed to Premier League side Sunderland -- lamented he and his father had never been on the same team.

"As you always said, it was a pity we never played together as we could have done some damage," he said.

Mr Egan died unexpectedly at his home in Elm Park in Bishopstown on Easter Sunday.

He was only 59.

He is acknowledged as being one of the true legends of Kerry's golden era in the late 70s and 80s when he won six All-Ireland medals and five All-Star awards.

Mr Egan captained the Kerry team of 1982 that lost to Offaly in the 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," Pat Spillane said.

"It hurt us all but I think it hurt John even more."

Two years ago, Mr Egan's health suffered a setback when he fell down stairs in his house. His son said he defied everyone who said he'd never recover.

"I'll never forget how you inspired me during your recovery, with your hard work, determination and with a big smile on your face," his son said.

"I'll always be proud of you Dad and you'll live on inside me. If I turn out to be half the man you are, I know I can't go wrong."

Then his son quoted a line from a poem: "Now you're hanging up your boots John, you never will retire. Your ghost will be a legend like the famous Sam Maguire."

Famous players from all over the country attended the funeral mass in Cork city, including many of Mr Egan's former rivals on the field.

The Taoiseach was represented by his aide-de-Camp, Comdt Michael Treacy.

Former Dublin players Jimmy Keaveney, Paddy Cullen, Tony Hanahoe, Gay O'Driscoll, Sean Doherty, Bernard Brogan and Kevin Moran attended, as did former Offaly players Willie Bryan and Fr Sean Heaney from Tullamore, Co Offaly, who concelebrated the mass.

Kerry's Ger Power, Mikey Sheehy, Tommy Doyle, Timmy Dowd and Arts and Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan were also present, along with their legendary manager Mick O'Dwyer.

Mr Egan's daughter Mairin and his son carried gifts to the altar that included their father's garda cap, a Kerry jersey, a Gaelic football and his prayer book.

His cousin Eamon Egan said all the family and his neighbours in Tahilla and Sneem were "proud beyond belief" of him but his greatest joy was his family, his wife Mary and their two children.

Fr Robert Brophy said many only knew the public John Egan, a football genius from Sneem.

"Yet I would say his greatest achievement has been in the last two years when he overcame and coped with his struggles and his illness," Fr Brophy said.

"I'm told these were in many ways his happiest years that revealed his true character, courage and determination, his great humility and his great humanity.

"His family were so proud of him and how he faced and fought his illness and that is why his premature death is so sad."

Mr Egan's club mates from Bishopstown in his adopted Cork formed the guard of honour as his coffin was carried from the church.

Irish Independent