Ireland under-21 international defender John Egan has been impressing Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill in pre-season and could be set for a James McClean-type breakthrough
By Ronan Murphy
The son of a six-time All Ireland Gaelic Football champion, John Egan always had large boots to fill. His father, John Egan Sr won nine Munster titles, and picked up five All-Star awards for Kerry between 1975-1984. On his death earlier this year, former team-mate and eight-time All Ireland winner Pat Spillane called him "one of greatest corner-forwards ever in Gaelic football".
John Jr did not follow his father's footsteps into GAA, but instead kept the ball at his feet, starting out as a youth at Cork City before moving to Sunderland's academy in 2009. He made 14 appearances in his first season with the Black Cats youth side, and was awarded the captain's armband for the following campaign.
A leader on and off the pitch, Egan is a tall, strong, athletic defender who is not shy in the tackle, which earned him a first Irish call-up to the under-16s in 2008 while at Greenwood in Cork. He made his U17 debut later that year under Sean McCaffrey, and lined out in European Championship qualifiers alongside the likes of Anthony O'Connor, Jeff Hendrick and Ryan Connolly.
|JOHN EGAN | Sunderland, Defender, 19
Like Hendrick and the others, Egan quickly rose through the ranks for Ireland, moving to U19 level the following year for the Clarion Hotel Four-Nation friendly tournament, in which he took to the field against Holland and Portugal. His impressive form for Sunderland's youths was mirrored internationally, as he was awarded the captain's armband by Paul Doolin and helped the side reach the semi finals of the 2011 European U19 Championship.
Egan's heroics on the pitch saw him pick up the FAI U19 International Player of the Year award this year, while he also made his debut for Noel King's U21 side. Last season, he spent time on loan at Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, but a pre-season trip to Asia with Martin O'Neill has helped the Corkman impress the Sunderland boss. "I thought John Egan did fine in Korea," O'Neill told the Nothern Echo. "He pleasantly surprised me; he's got a good attitude and wants to do well."
At the Stadium of Light, Egan looks up to James McClean who has had a meteoric rise since breaking through under O'Neill, and hopes to follow in his footsteps. "It gives all the young players hope," Egan told RTE. "When you see what James has done in six months, it just shows that if you get your chance too and you take it, then it could turn out like that."