Sheffield United v Stoke City: Captaining Ireland can only benefit John Egan and the Blades

DURING international breaks in recent years, the sight of a core of Sheffield United players singing Amhrán na bhFiann – the national anthem of Ireland – has been a reassuring constant.

Few will have sung it as heartily and proudly as John Egan did last Saturday and on Tuesday night.

In a pretty forgettable year for the club, footage of the Blades defender leading his country to victory in their World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan and then striding out in Dublin to again captain Ireland in their midweek friendly victory over Qatar was a rare highlight.

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Cork-born Egan had captained his country in two June friendlies in Andorra and Hungary, but wearing the armband in a qualification fixture and a home game acquired a fair bit more kudos.

Republic of Ireland's John Egan (Picture: PA)

Sport is in the Egan genes. His late father John was a Gaelic football legend with Kerry and enjoyed some heady days on Dublin’s northside at Croke Park during All-Ireland finals in the Seventies and early Eighties.

A permanent reminder of Egan Senior’s status can be viewed in the town of Sneem in County Kerry, where there is a life-size statue of the former inside forward, one of the greatest-ever GAA players.

Egan’s mother Mary also represented Kerry at under-age level, played camogie and won a League of Ireland medal with Cork Rangers, while Egan also played hurling for Bishopstown and Cork before concentrating on soccer.

Mary was inside the Aviva Stadium on Dublin’s southside to see her son in the green and white of Ireland in the capital – as opposed to the green and gold of Kerry.

Going for goal: Republic of Ireland's Shane Duffy, John Egan and Chiedozie Ogbene jump for a header during the international friendly against Qatar. Picture: Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

It was another choice addition to the magic medley of sporting memories contained in the bulging Egan family album.

Egan said: “It was especially special, being such a proud Irishman. Playing for your country and then captaining it, you do feel that responsibility.

“It’s just an immense feeling of pride and being an Irishman, it is probably the pinnacle of your career. It was up there with the proudest moments of my life.

“My mother is a proud Irish woman herself. Before all the Ireland games, she gets emotional. She was up in Dublin for the Qatar game and was really proud.

Leads by example: Sheffield United defender John Egan. Picture: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

“She gives me career advice from time to time depending on the result. If I’m in a foul mood, I probably won’t listen, but she loves it.”

It was far away from the Irish capital in the principal Azerbaijani city of Baku where Egan contributed towards a milestone moment for Ireland last weekend.

A 3-0 win earned a first competitive win in 13 games for under-fire manager Stephen Kenny.

United’s Conor Hourihane came on as a late replacement, while Enda Stevens was an unused substitute on a day when the Irish cracked open a smile again.

Championship-wise, Egan and his Irish team-mates at Bramall Lane have had the odd interlude of sunshine, more especially in wins over Peterborough and Hull.

Victory over the latter was notable for a brace from Egan on a day when the Blades looked to be making a statement in 2021-22.

Successive defeats have tempered that optimism somewhat, with United remaining a work in progress as they adapt to Slavisa Jokanovic’s style makeover.

Part of the change has had a direct impact on Egan and co with a return to a back four.

Egan added: “The only time I have played a back three was when I moved to Sheffield United, so it is good to be able to play both formations.

“I think all the lads can adapt. He is a top manager.

“We are all really excited to be working under him. Training is really good and we have shown how good we can be and it is about taking it forward and really getting down to hard work and improving more now.”