Wednesday 13 December 2017

Egan takes road less travelled by sons of GAA stars

Ireland call-up an indication of Brentford defender's progess

John Egan during Republic of Ireland squad training at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown Co. Dublin. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
John Egan during Republic of Ireland squad training at FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown Co. Dublin. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Croke Park was his father's 'Theatre of Dreams', but for John Egan the Aviva Stadium a few kilometres across the city from Jones' Road is the big stage on which he yearns to parade his talents in a green jersey.

Should Egan, 24, gain a full international cap for his country, the wheel of sporting fortune will have come full circle for he and his family.

Those of us of a certain age can only wonder how quickly 40 years and more have passed since John senior, the burly tormentor of corner-backs, first plied his trade with a Kerry Gaelic football side which went on to rate as one of the greatest in the history of the GAA.

The late John - he passed away in 2012 at the age of 59 - won six All-Ireland medals and five All-Star awards among a host of other honours. Mention his name and the word 'legend' justifiably trips off the tongue.

John junior, by contrast, has taken the road less travelled by sons of GAA heroes.

Currently he plies his trade with Championship side Brentford for whom he has so far made 36 appearances since joining the Bees last summer.

Taken

The fans at Griffin Park have taken to Egan, helped no doubt by his home debut last August when he scored the two goals that gave Brentford a 2-1 victory over Mick McCarthy's Ipswich.

To date he has racked up four goals and seven yellow cards on duty for the Greater London club. The latter statistic points to his ability to 'get stuck in' as per traditional centre-back requirements, but manager Dean Smith also rates Egan's ball-playing skills highly.

Yesterday the Cork-born Egan - yes, he is not technically a Kerryman - met the media on day one of his first training session with Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland squad for the World Cup qualifier with Wales.

He was brought up in Bishopstown in Cork where his dad worked as a garda, but has never forgotten his Kerry or GAA roots, which explains why he monitored the big Kerry v Dublin clash online on Saturday night.

An all-round sportsman, growing up he played Gaelic football and hurling with the Bishopstown club where his dad was a manager, but soccer with Greenwood FC in Cork opened the door to joining Sunderland, then managed by Steve Bruce, in 2011.

Martin O'Neill took over when Bruce parted company with Sunderland in December of that year. O'Neill lasted just 15 months in the job, but he gave Egan a big boost after the youngster broke his leg in November 2012 playing on loan for Bradford.

His contract with Sunderland was due to finish in the summer of 2013 so talks were due to begin, but the leg break left Egan facing almost a year out of action.

"Martin was very good. He was the first one in the hospital the next day, which was a nice touch.

"The first thing he said to me, to put my mind at ease, was to not worry about the contract situation and it would be sorted.

"Once I knew that, it was a case of getting the rehab going," said Egan.

Eventually, when the grind of recovery was over, Egan began a journey through the ranks, with a loan period at Southend followed by a free transfer to Gillingham in 2014 before linking up with Brentford last July.

The call to duty with O'Neill's squad this week means opportunity knocks to rise to a higher level of football, but Egan takes nothing for granted.

"You can never really expect the call-up. You have to work hard for it, but I feel my form this season has been good, and the manager has been at a few games so I feel I have earned it.

"My performances have got me here. At the start of the season one of my big goals was to break into the team. Now I have my foot in the door I have to try and impress in training," said Egan.

Irish Independent

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