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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 21 August, 2019
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Forward, goalkeeper and now coach for Tipperary in All-Ireland final battle with Kilkenny

Darragh Egan has had different roles on Croke Park final day against Kilkenny.

Tipperary coach and selector Darragh Egan.
Tipperary coach and selector Darragh Egan.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

FAMILIARITY IS THE buzzword when it comes to Tipperary, Kilkenny and All-Ireland final meetings.

When they faced off ten years ago, that Croke Park game kick-started a chain of such occasions. Sunday will be the seventh tussle between the counties for Liam MacCarthy Cup supremacy since 2009, factoring in the two games required to settle the issue in 2014.

There have been constant presences on the sideline and permanent fixtures on the pitch in that spell but no one has filled an array of roles like Darragh Egan in the Tipperary camp.

In 2009 he didn’t make the cut for the Tipperary squad. A year later he was part of their back-up attacking options when they halted Kilkenny’s drive for five, coming off the bench that season to hit the net in the qualifier win over Wexford.

Darragh Egan scores his side's third goal Darragh Egan hits the net for Tipperary against Wexford in 2010.

By 2014 he had switched to a goalkeeping role, the understudy to Tipperary’s regular netminder Darren Gleeson.

And now five years on he will serve in a coaching role as Tipperary aim to plot the downfall of Kilkenny once more.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” says the Kiladangan man.

“I’m sure the intensity I’m going to face, sitting down watching the game in the cauldron that is Croke Park next week is going to be different to anything I’ve experienced. But it’s going to be interesting.”

He was recruited when Liam Sheedy was assembling his managerial crew last winner with their hurling links having been forged long before that. Connections with the other figures in the Tipperary coaching brains trust were already established.

Egan also had to adjust to coaching players he had soldiered alongside. His first year out of minor ranks in 2005 saw him pitched into the Tipperary senior scene.

“I went to college in NUIG so I would have had a very good relationship with Eamon (O’Shea), that was an easy sell.

“Liam (Sheedy) was my manager. Ì didn’t tog in the 2009 All-Ireland final, I sat down with Liam and had a very straight conversation in the winter of ’09 and I did tog in the 2010 final.

“He’s a neighbour of mine as well and he would have been good friends with my brother growing up so I’ve dealt with him in both a personal and professional capacity.

“My first year on the (Tipperary senior) panel, 2005, was Tommy’s last year. I have a good connection with all three of the lads.

“It hasn’t been that difficult to be honest. These players are just so professional. They crave information off you and if it’s the right information, they’ll digest it. It doesn’t matter who is giving it to them.

“The likes of Noel (McGrath), Paudie, Seamie, Donagh Maher, lads who I have played with over the years, they are nothing but professional with me.

“They look for certain information on certain things, they will go to Tommy for different kinds of information and it seems to be working well so far.”

While being immersed in playing environments, Egan’s interest in coaching began to take shape. He played an integral in the development structures of his club Kiladangan.

When he started playing for their flagship adult side in 2001, it was in the intermediate ranks in north Tipperary. His underage career had been largely confined to games at C grade.

Three years they contested the Tipperary senior final for the first time in 78 years, Egan shooting 0-6 from full-forward as they lost out to the heavyweight presence of Thurles Sarsfields. Their club have hoovered up various A titles in the divisional underage grades.

Darragh Egan Darragh Egan in action for Kiladangan against Thurles Sarsfields in the 2016 Tipperary senior hurling final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Wider recognition has followed for their players. Willie Connors and Alan Flynn came off the bench in that thrilling second-half comeback against Wexford last month. David Sweeney and Barry Hogan are also part of the extended Tipperary squad.

“I would have had some top-class coaches in my own club. Eamonn Kelly, who went on to manage Laois and Offaly, managed me at U10 and U12s.

“Brian Lawlor, who won a Christy Ring, is our current club manager. I would have had some top-class coaches down through the years, and I would have always developed a grá for it.

“That kind of lit the fire in me. Our club is making great strides at an underage capacity and I was chairman of the juvenile club, so I always wanted to get better and think how could I get the lads I play senior hurling with at home into a coaching capacity.

“We have a very good system at home where all the underage teams are managed by the senior hurlers.”

After time spent with the Tipperary U16 side, the offer came from Sheedy to work with the elite.

“I was manager of Tipp U16s the last two years and thoroughly enjoyed it,” says the 33-year-old.

“Now I know it’s a different thing, it’s just Saturday mornings, about three hours of the week. Now I’m gone to about 23 hours of the week.

“I’m principal of a primary school. We have 20 staff in our school. I’m dealing with people all the time and I enjoy that. I just knew this opportunity was going to be one that was too big to pass.”

Exposure to the underage ranks has facilitated Egan’s development as a coach.

“We are trying to give these players a platform to hurl in the Tipperary style. We need to be flexible as well, from a tactical point of view.

“I think these underage tournaments are really important. Again, developing a style. It’s kind of gone like the soccer academies now. If you’re in a Man City soccer academy, you’re going to play a particular style. It’s no different now in Tipp hurling, Kilkenny hurling, Cork hurling.

“I was at an U16 county tournament last Saturday, actually in memory of my father at my own club, where Tipp, Galway, Kilkenny and Cork were playing.

“It was like watching the seniors. Even though they were lighter and smaller, the styles were the same.

“You’re looking at this saying ‘it’s a million miles away before these guys play senior hurling’ but last year you had Sean Hayes, who came on for Tipp U20s in the semi-final last week, Johnny Ryan played midfield, Kian O’Kelly.

“These lads were my Tipp U16s two years ago. There’s a likelihood these lads will be on our senior panel in the next few years, all going well.”

In his minor hurling days Egan, who also featured for the Ireland U17 Compromise Rules side against Australia, served as a goalkeeper with Tipperary in 2003 and full-forward in 2004.

He remained outfield until 2011 when he picked up an injury which prompted his move into goal at club level. He hurled there for a couple of seasons and his development saw Eamonn O’Shea bring him into the Tipperary panel. 

His time between the posts saw him view hurling differently and influenced his views on coaching.

Darragh Egan with Ryan O'Dwyer Darragh Egan was part of the Tipperary goalkeeping ranks in 2014. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I didn’t think of this until I was there in 2014/15 as a goalkeeper. Looking back on it now, that has definitely informed my coaching philosophies and capacity.

“When you’re looking out at 15 lads, you’re looking at shape and structure. That is massive. Having that picture in my head, I know now what a full-back wants, what Brian Hogan wants to be looking out at.

“It has improved me, I hope, as a coach, and given me a different kind of a view on it.  When I was sub goalie in 2014/15, Darren Gleeson was top-class at puckouts. We were heading in that direction.

“It has gone another notch and is going a notch every year. All the restarts. You see sideline balls in both the All-Ireland semi-finals, it’s a treasured commodity to have a ball under your feet.

“There are not too many going for shots anymore. It’s all about possession.”

His game time with Kiladangan has been parked momentarily. He’s planning on moving back into it as the year unfolds but the immediate focus is all trained on helping the Tipperary players land the prize they crave.

Tipperary players and and managerment celebrate Darragh Egan (front right) celebrating Tipperary's 2010 All-Ireland final victory.

“I haven’t been down there much this year (with the club)! I will now, once this is over I’ll hopefully get back and do a bit. I need a lot of training before I get back into it.

“Liam is an excellent manager, you’re dealing with two top-class coaches and players that just want to learn. They want to get better, they want to improve on the years they had in 2018 and 2017.

“These guys are top-class individuals. They have put everything on hold to hurl for Tipperary over the last 10 years.

“They will rank among the greats that have played with us. They want to get to the top of the tree again.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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