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Thursday 14 November 2019

I believed in myself more than anyone

No GAA regrets for Egan as life in Premier League feeds hope of Ireland call-up

RIGHT CHOICE: John Egan during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
RIGHT CHOICE: John Egan during a Republic of Ireland training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

He is the son of an all-time Kerry great, sitting in Croke Park beside a pal who is a recent winner of an all-Ireland medal with the county.

But as John Egan watched Kerry play out that thrilling draw with Dublin two weeks ago, with Barry-John Keane by his side, there was no sense of missed opportunity or regret that Egan did not have the option to play in front of 82,000 people in a game which held the attention of a nation, a match on another level, in terms of intensity, compared to a soccer friendly. Against Bulgaria.

"Obviously the GAA is great but I suppose inter-county is only great when you're winning. So around those days, when Kerry won an All Ireland or two, you'd think about it n ow and again," says the defender, whose father, also John, won six all-Irelands.

"But I'd never ever change my mind. I really enjoy playing football every day. Every club I've been at I've enjoyed every minute of it, be it Southend or Gillingham in League One or League Two or Sheffield United in the Premier League now, and I wouldn't change it for the world."

There is little reason for Egan to demand change now. At 26 he is coming into his prime. He's an established member of a Sheffield United side which has adapted well to the rigours of Premier League football, and with Mick McCarthy likely to rest players for tomorrow's friendly at home to Bulgaria, Egan should win his fifth cap.

Ireland have played 22 games since his debut, against Iceland in 2017, and his record of just three subsequent appearances in that time shows how hard it's been to get a look in.

Regular

But his status as a Premier League player now, and not just that but a regular in a very good Blades team, enhances his status.

He says a spell at Sunderland at the start of his career gave him an idea of what the Premier League was like and in the five years since he left Sunderland, the top flight was always his goal, even a broken leg not enough to dampen his desire.

"When you do go through setbacks it does make you stronger. Conor Hourihane is the same, he dropped down the leagues and made his way back up," Egan reflected.

"If you believe in yourself, that you can be the player that you believe you can be, then you can do that.

"That's having the mental state to be disciplined and to really believe in something, see yourself as a project. I believed in myself probably more than anyone growing up.

"Even when I broke my leg and even when I was released by Sunderland, I still believed that I was going to play in the Premier League.

"Maybe if I said it to someone at the time they would have laughed at me . But I just had that mentality that I was going to try at the very minimum to keep trying to make myself a better player.

"Ever since you have been a kid you want to play in the Premier League," he added.

"It's the best league in the world so, personally for me, I always believed that I could get there and now I believe that I can do well there.

Kick on

"It's one thing getting there but you have to build on that and kick on. You have to try to do well there , you don't want to be going up there and going around as a tourist.

"You have to go to places to try to get results and to play well so every day is a challenge but it's one that I am absolutely loving.

"I didn't really feel daunted by it and so far we have done well and, personally , my performances have been decent. So it's all about building on that now."

The only blockage in his path right now is the form of Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy, McCarthy's go-to guys for central defence. Barring injury or suspension, it's the Keogh/Duffy axis which will be in place for a long as Ireland have an interest in Euro 2020.

Duffy was dropped by his club, Brighton, for their most recent Premier League game.

But such is the importance of the Derry native to the Republic's cause (Duffy is the second-highest scorer in the current squad, after James McClean), he is an immovable object in terms of the team and will not be left out willingly by McCarthy.

"The manager makes all the calls but Duffy has been brilliant for Ireland, fantastic, especially in the last couple of years when he has been the first name on the team sheet, and again the other night he was very solid," says Egan.

"But if I am ever called upon to go onto the pitch I will be ready."

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