Monday 16 September 2019

'You appreciate what he did for the game' - Irish star Egan on his late father's Kerry glory days

John Egan, captain of the 1982 Kerry team, alongside his son John, the current Ireland and Sheffield United defender
John Egan, captain of the 1982 Kerry team, alongside his son John, the current Ireland and Sheffield United defender

David Sneyd

There is a blue one, a silver one, a grey one, a red one and numerous black ones. Range Rovers are clearly the order of the day in the players' section of the car park at Sheffield United's training ground. There are some high-end Mercs, BMWs and Audis, with a few personalised licence plates to boot.

There are the immaculate training pitches - the one the first team are using is covered by a black mesh to prevent prying eyes - and a full-size indoor astro on the bottom floor of the impressive three-storey complex.

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Exactly what you expect at a Premier League club.

But there are quirks to how Sheffield United operate. For starters, the training ground is not hidden away in the countryside, instead it's slap bang in the middle of a local housing estate that has rows of maisonettes surrounding it.

Similarly, on matchdays at Bramall Lane, the players will be mobbed by supporters for selfies and autographs as they walk through the car park to the dressing-rooms. No barriers and no one escapes attention. No one tries to.

The top floor of the training ground, originally planned as accommodation for the club's academy players, was, up until recently, rented by the snooker academy which helped nurture Chinese sensation Ding Junhui.

It also provided a place for the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan and Peter Ebdon to practise ahead of the World Snooker Championships at the nearby Crucible.

Connection

Now it is where John Egan sits to carry out media duties before today's visit to Chelsea, and it is this connection between the club and the community which provoke thoughts of home in a week that is already special to the Egan family.

"I said it to one of my buddies back home that it's just like playing for a GAA club or a county, it's just like playing for your parish. It's hard to find. There aren't many clubs like that but Sheffield United definitely is, and I saw that last season," the defender, a cornerstone of their promotion campaign and who lives in the city centre, feels.

"The passion out of people. You'd be walking around town and chat to them about the game for five minutes and stuff. The fans are so passionate about the city and the club, it's a fantastic club to be a part of and play for because it's got that community feeling."

Home for Egan is Bishopstown but the Kingdom, naturally, holds a place deep in his heart as the son of six-time All-Ireland hero John Egan Snr.

"Growing up, all I knew was Kerry football and although I lived in Cork all I wanted to do was play for Kerry," Egan Jnr continues.

"It was a bit weird, I was supporting Kerry in football and Cork in hurling. I used to go in to school on a Monday after a Munster final and win, lose or draw, I'd wear my Kerry jersey. I used to get a lot of stick for it."

Weeks like this one - Dublin and Kerry and a historic All-Ireland SFC final in Croke Park - used to make him pine for home but, with 10 years behind him as a professional in England, he has learned to cope.

Egan has had to deal with far bigger losses in his life, none greater than the sudden death of his father seven years ago. It came at a crucial point in his own career, ironically just after a loan spell in Sheffield when it looked as if he was about to make a breakthrough in the Premier League under Martin O'Neill at Sunderland.

"It was Easter weekend. I got the call to go and travel with the first team to Everton. Then I got the call the next morning that my father had passed away. Football was the last thing on my mind and I was on the first flight home.

"And, obviously, people on that flight going back to Cork knew who my dad was and knew who I was. I was just, head down, hood up - just devastated. It's still tough for me and the family to this day. It never gets fully better. It gets easier with time. Just time. Life can be cruel. He's up there looking down on me, I know that.

"And the older you get the more you can appreciate what he did and how successful he was. When you're growing up he's just your dad and you kind of see that (his GAA career) as secondary and something in black and white. Something just on a tape.

"Now, growing up, going to All-Irelands, seeing how hard they are to come by, definitely, you appreciate what he did for the game and did for the people of Kerry."

Dublin have the five-in-a-row in their sights and the memories of teasing his father about missing out on the same feat as captain against Offaly in 1982 are fond ones.

"If you wanted to annoy him you could bring it up," Egan laughs. "He wouldn't be talking about it too much. It's amazing - you can win six All-Irelands and the one you think about the most is the one that got away. It's funny how sport works. That's the way sport is. But it's crazy - Kerry have won so many All-Irelands and they still can't get 1982 out of their heads.

"In any Kerry person's mind, deep down, they don't want Dublin doing the five-in-a-row. But Dublin are a class team and if they do it, fair play to them, but I think Kerry have more than enough to cause an upset on the day. Everyone thinks Dublin are going to win the 10-in-a-row never mind the five-in-a-row."

Enda Stevens, "a proper Dub" as Egan describes him, is one of those and his team-mate will be alongside him in Croke Park tomorrow, provided they can source tickets, ahead of meeting up with the Ireland squad for the Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland next week.

"I've put the feelers out," Egan admits. "I'm waiting for a text. A couple should pop up but they're €90 each so I might have to take out a loan. Shocking. Every single stand ticket €90, like. It shouldn't be that much for people who want to go and watch their county. It should be half that. I dunno. I just don't agree with it.

"I think that if you could stay at home and play Gaelic or hurling and it was your job, that would be a huge pull, but the beauty of Gaelic is that it's amateur. I don't think it would ever really change. If it went fully professional where there could be transfers, I think that would be all wrong. I couldn't imagine playing for any other club but Bishopstown. All I do when I'm home is go up to the GAA club, have a kick around or puck around with the lads. That's all I do when I go home really.

"You just have that sense of pride in your team and you're playing with your friends growing up, you're playing for your county, I think that has to stay regardless if they ever go professional in years to come. They can never lose that, really."

Irish Independent

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