‘We want to give the country a team they are proud to support’

IT’S BEEN A season full of frustration and disappointment for John Egan.

Identified by Ireland manger Stephen Kenny as one of his most important players, with a key role to play both in terms of defensive duties and distribution, a mixture of injuries and just pure bad luck left Egan watching on from a distance when needed most.

The 28-year-old missed the games against Finland and Wales last October after being identified as a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case, and lasted just 14 minutes of the November defeat to England. 

Injury then ruled Egan out of Ireland’s opening World Cup qualifiers in March – one month before he experienced relegation from the Premier League with Sheffield United.

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Of the 11 games Ireland have played under Kenny, Egan has only been involved in four. 

“It’s been tough to be fair,” Egan says.

“It’s horrible when you are sitting at home watching the games and wishing that you could be out there and being with the lads in the squad. It’s been tough, but it’s football. Sometimes things like that happen.”

It would be easy for Egan to feel hard done by. He made his Ireland debut as a 24-year-old in 2017, but has clocked up just 12 caps to date.  

“It’s not something that bugs me too much, I try to look forward to the next game and cap,” he continues.

“I’ve been unlucky with the last few camps with Covid and injury issues. I’m not one for looking back too much, wishing I had this amount of caps, thinking I should have done this and that.

“I just want to be successful and try to do something with Ireland in the coming times. Then I can look back when you’ve made (it to) and played in big tournaments. That’s the aim for everybody – to try to play in big tournaments for Ireland.”

Egan has featured just four times under Stephen Kenny.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This international window presents a strong opportunity for Egan and Ireland to get back on track. Ireland will look to pick up their first win of the Kenny era against Andorra on Thursday before a more testing encounter against Euro 2020-bound Hungary next Tuesday. 

The week-long camp in Girona also offers Kenny the luxury of an extended period on the training pitch with his players, with one eye on September’s crucial run of World Cup qualifiers.

Egan represents one of the senior men in a youthful squad containing a considerable contingent from his home county, Cork – a series of training games last Friday saw the players split into three teams, one of which was entirely made up of Munster men.

The early dispatches from camp leave an impression of a relaxed atmosphere, with the squad enjoying the rare opportunity to enjoy some downtime together outside the training bubble.

And Egan reiterated the players’ strong belief in what Kenny is trying to achieve with the group.

“I think that there have been some really good performances.  The biggest game we probably played was the Slovakia game.

“That was a really good performance and we should have really put that game to bed. That’s probably one thing I look back on, when we had a really good chance of reaching the Euros, so it was disappointing that we didn’t win the game.

“That’s all we are trying to do, really. From a player’s point of view, we’re all hungry and are all eager to work with the manager and go out there and get results for the country.

“So hopefully we can turn the corner soon and get some momentum by winning games.”

Results in March left Ireland trailing both Serbia and Portugal by seven points in their World Cup qualifier group, meaning a dramatic upturn is needed if they are to avoid missing out on another major tournament.

“Obviously, it was far from the start that we wanted. But we’re still only two games in and anything can happen. We have got to focus on ourselves and we have got to go out there and try to get the results.

“You have to keep going no matter what the situation is  we have go to look at the next game and see what we can do. It’s going to be tough, there’s no doubt about that. We’re definitely outsiders now but all we can do is to look to the next game and try to get a result.

“You never know – if you get a bit of momentum, you never know.”

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