herald

Saturday 21 April 2018

Egan's out to impress

Ireland U21 star is battling for full fitness and a place in the first team at Sunderland following leg injury

IRELAND prospect John Egan hopes he will get to work again with Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane. A place in the Irish senior squad is a long way off for Sunderland man Egan at the moment, as the 21-year-old has just returned after almost a year on the sidelines with a broken leg.

For now, games for the Sunderland reserves will allow the talented defender to work on his fitness in the hope that by the new year, he will either be in a position to force his way into the Black Cats' first team or go out on loan.

But long term, the goal for Egan is to progress from underage level with Ireland – he was captain of Paul Doolin's Irish U19s when they reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2011 – to the big stage.

"I am only in the Sunderland reserves and making my way back from injury, so I can't start talking too much about the Irish squad, it's a long way in the distance," Egan told the Herald.

"But I really enjoyed working with Martin at Sunderland, and it can't do me any harm in the long-term that Roy and Martin would know who I am. I had a great pre-season at Sunderland under Martin last year, so I have an idea of what training would be like under him.

"It won't guarantee anything, once you are playing well for your club at a high level the Ireland manager will give you a chance no matter who you are.

"Martin was very good to me. When I was out injured with my broken leg, it was Martin who would have given the okay for Sunderland to give me a new contract and that was huge for me," added Egan, who also got to work briefly with Keane.

"Roy would have been the manager when I was there on trial, he had gone by the time I had signed, but I did meet him a few times, he was always a legend in Irish football to me.

"It's a great partnership to have, they are two real football men and hopefully them coming into the senior squad will lead to good times for Irish football," added Egan, capped five times at U21 level.

"I was back in the U21 squad for the games earlier this month and, when I was out injured, Noel King was in touch to check how I was getting on. Hopefully I can get a few more U21 caps when the next games come up."

Egan has been close to making the first team at Sunderland under O'Neill. "At the start of last season I did the whole of the pre-season with the first team and came on in three pre-season games," he says.

"It was a great experience and I travelled with the first team a few times, then we agreed with Martin O'Neill that I'd go on loan to get matches, I went to Bradford City and it started off really well there."

But Egan's world was turned upside down 12 months ago when things were heading in the right direction. He was on loan to Bradford and enjoying the experience, but four games in, came a calamity.

"I broke my leg, simple as that," says Egan. "The first three games were great, in the fourth match for them I landed badly and broke my leg, it was just one of those things.

"For me to even get this far, being able to play for the Sunderland reserves again, is great progress. Six months ago I was a long way away but I have been back in training for a few weeks now."

OFFERS

The window for loan moves closed yesterday and there were offers to take Egan on loan, but that didn't happen. "I had a few clubs who called me up about a loan deal, but I didn't feel I was fully ready," he says.

"I would only go and play for a team if I felt I was able to do a job for them and play my best, and at the moment I am not 100 per cent fitness-wise. It would have been the easy option to go on loan, but that wouldn't have been right for me or for the club I was joining.

"For now I will stay at Sunderland, work on my fitness and sharpness, and if by January I am not involved with the first team then I can see about a loan.

"I have been back training since September and I have played six or seven reserve games, so my match fitness isn't where it needs to be."

Egan is out of contract at the end of this season and he is unsure what the future holds, though there was a morale boost earlier this week when manager Gus Poyet said he wanted to use more players who had come through the club's academy system.

"I haven't had many dealings with Gus as I was out injured for so long, I have trained under him a few times but it's mainly the reserves, but it's good to know he will keep an eye on the younger players and give us a chance if we are good enough."

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