JOHN EGAN’S week just gets better. Fresh from captaining the Republic of Ireland for the first time, Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has served notice of another accolade awaiting.
“He is a future Sheffield United captain, that’s without a doubt,” said Wilder. “Billy [Sharp] is the captain of the football club at the moment and Ollie [Norwood] has taken that on when Billy’s not been playing.
“I think it is important that we do surround ourselves with those types of players and characters as well. John epitomises everything that we’re trying to do, honest committed, enthusiastic, wants to win. We all recognise what a good footballer he is as well.
“He’s putting an awful lot of pressure on the two [regular] centre-halves for the Republic at the moment and all he can keep doing is playing well for us. I know Mick [McCarthy, the Ireland manager] wouldn’t have given him the captaincy if he didn’t think a lot about him, just as much as we do.”
Ironically, Egan earned his fifth cap and the skipper’s armband after making an uncharacteristic error in United’s 2-2 draw at Chelsea. He and Jack O’Connell collided going for the same ball, allowing Tammy Abraham to give the Londoners a 2-0 lead.
Following this week’s 3-1 friendly win against Bulgaria in Dublin, Egan said before heading back to Sheffield: “It is the proudest night of my career. I found out on the morning on our walk, the gaffer just pulled me and told me that I was going to lead the lads out.
“I’m a proud Irishman and captaining your country is the pinnacle of your career. I know it was only a friendly, but nobody can ever take this away from me and I am delighted with that now.”
Whether the 26-year-old did enough to unseat either of first choice centre-halves Shane Duffy or Richard Keogh in any of Ireland’s three remaining qualifying fixtures is unlikely. Clipping striker Bozhidar Kraev to concede a penalty and enable Bulgaria to equalise may not have helped his cause. Although it was a last ditch effort to clear the danger after Fulham’s Cyrus Christie was dispossessed in the Irish box.
Whatever his international future, Egan, a £4million-plus signing from Brentford in the summer of 2018, a record buy for the Blades at the time, is enjoying life in the Premier League and the new challenge that it presents. “I suppose the Championship is really physically demanding, playing every Saturday and Tuesday. I think the Premier League is more mentally demanding,” he said.
“You come up against players that you give them one chance, they’re going to take it. Especially in my position, you’re going to have to be focused for every second of the game, because as soon as you allow a player of that calibre in on goal, it’s going to be a goal.”
Egan, who’s late father, also called John, won six All-Ireland medals in a celebrated Gaelic football career, added: “Personally I feel like my performances have been good. I’ve really enjoyed the step up. I’m trying to embrace it and really have a good few games and good season now and show that I belong.”