REPUBLIC of Ireland soccer star John Egan’s immediate thought when he scored his first senior international goal against a star-studded Portugal in a World Cup qualifier in September was of his late father, Kerry GAA legend John snr from Sneem.
The stylish Sheffield United defender – recently named FAI Senior Player of the Year – stunned the Algarve just before the break when he rose at the near post to head home a corner from Jamie McGrath to give Ireland a shock lead.
And as his team-mates raced to celebrate with him, the unassuming Egan’s thoughts immediately turned to his dad who passed away, at the age of 59, in 2012.
“They’re the nights you feel he’s looking down on you. It’s a strange feeling but it is very special,” said the 29-year-old central defender.
The venue was what made the occasion extra special as John and Mary Egan, their son John jnr and daughter Máirín, had holidayed in the Algarve every year when the father and son sought out sand or gravel pitches close by to fine-tune their footballing skills,
“To score my first Ireland goal there then meant more because it was all I was thinking of when I flew there.
“I was lucky enough to have him as a dad and I was extremely lucky to have my mum in the crowd that night. It’s just a feeling of being a bit blessed,” John said.
The former Sunderland and Brentford star said whenever things go well on the field of play, when he’s taking to his family afterwards the first thing he says is ‘Imagine if dad was there’.
John Egan snr was a sporting superstar in his own right, winning six All-Ireland titles, nine Munster Championships, four national leagues and five All-Star awards and he is remembered as one of the greatest corner forwards to ever play the game.
John jnr said his dad encouraged him to follow his dream when the offer of a career as a professional soccer player was made and he was always his greatest supporter.
John snr told him he was good enough to make it, to go over there and work hard and he’d back him 100 per cent.
Young John, who was 16 at the time, had been toying with the idea of remaining in Cork to play Gaelic football and hurling but his father said that although he himself had won everything in Gaelic football, apart from memories and medals, there was nothing to show for it in a way.
He encouraged his son to seize the opportunity to play the sport he loved and make a living from it.
“I listened to my dad who was my hero and one of my best friends. It put my mind at ease,” the Sheffield United and Ireland star said in an extensive interview on Newstalk’s Off The Ball.
“I had gone over on trials five or six times with different clubs and I had seen the level. I knew I’d work as hard if not harder than anyone over there so if I got that side right, I’d have a good chance”.
John’s mum, Mary – who also played soccer and has a League of Ireland medal – was a little more hesitant as she wanted him to finish his education before moving to Sunderland but once the club offered assurance that his academic requirements would be seen after, she was happier.
And while Kerry football legend John Egan was deprived of the privilege of watching his son lead Ireland into action in the World Cup qualifiers, mum Mary is there to cheer him on and to give every encouragement to the young footballer who, like his father before him, grew up to become a true sporting hero.