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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 9 March 2021

'I’ve always had belief' - Egan ready to step up amid Irish defensive selection crisis

Mick McCarthy is likely to be without most of his first-choice defence for Saturday’s clash with Georgia.

John Egan speaks to the media today.
John Egan speaks to the media today.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

SINCE AARON CONNOLLY erupted on the country’s consciousness over the weekend, what Mick McCarthy might change for Saturday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Georgia has, naturally, cut ice. 

There has been less talk about what he must change – most of his first-choice back four. 

Seamus Coleman, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy, and Enda Stevens have played every minute of the qualification campaign thus far, but there is a big chance that Coleman will be the only member of that quartet playing in Tbilisi this weekend. 

Enda Stevens is out through suspension but will return to Irish duty for the game with Switzerland next Tuesday; Richard Keogh is out injured after a car crash and may not return again. 

Shane Duffy, meanwhile, is doubtful. He is recovering from a calf injury, although McCarthy hasn’t ruled him out yet. Duffy hasn’t linked up with the Irish camp and is still at Brighton, although McCarthy is giving him the maximum amount of time to recover. 

“I’ve just told Shane via a text message, the plane is leaving at 2pm from Dublin Airport to Tbilisi, so we’ll keep a seat with extra legroom as we always do, so don’t be late”, McCarthy told the media earlier today. 

Regardless of whether Duffy is ready to play on Saturday, Keogh’s absence means John Egan is likely to step up to make his first competitive start for Ireland, having captained the side in last month’s friendly win over Bulgaria. 

sheffield-united-v-liverpool-premier-league-bramall-lane Egan tussles with Mo Salah in a recent league game. Source: Richard Sellers

“On the last couple of trips I didn’t play, but I prepared as if I was going to, just in case”, Egan told reporters today.

“If you are selected you have to be ready to do a job. You have to prepare all week as if you’re going to play.” 

This has been a season of encouraging debuts for Egan, as with Sheffield United he is fitting in comfortably to a first season of Premier League football. The Blades have made a sharp start – they have nine points from their opening eight games – and Egan has started all eight games. 

“I am playing with confidence at the moment”, said Egan. “I’ve always had belief in my ability, no matter what level I played at. You need that as a player, if you start doubting yourself things can become quite tricky.

“I’m really enjoying my football at the moment, and hope to keep enjoying it and keep improving.” 

Egan says he doesn’t have any doubts as he doesn’t have time for them. 

“I don’t think you have time to think about that stuff, to be honest, as you’re so focused on the next game, and trying to do well. Obviously that’s the bigger picture and sometimes if you have a bit of time to reflect on that, and I know it’s a bit of a cliche but I just focus on the next game and trying to get a result.

“At the end of the season you might reflect and think about stuff like that, but at the moment it’s quite helter-skelter with games coming thick and fast, and you don’t have much time to think.” 

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Nothing summed up just how helter-skelter the Premier League is than Egan slipping and being forced to head away a football from Roberto Firmino’s toe in a recent league defeat to Liverpool. 

“Ah, whatever me and this fella have to do to keep the ball out of dangerous territory”, grinned Egan while pointing to Kevin Long beside him. “But it wasn’t a bad tackle!” 

republic-of-ireland-v-bulgaria-international-friendly Egan celebrates with Kevin Long after the latter's goal against Bulgaria. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Sheffield United have a unique system – they play three centre-backs, but those either side of Egan are given licence to run forward and offer themselves as options overlapping forwards on either wing – but Egan insists adapting from that to the traditional back four employed by McCarthy isn’t an issue. 

“No, I played a back four all my career until I signed for Sheffield United. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a back four, or a back three or back five, I can adapt.

“At Sheffield United we have a unique way of playing a back three, anyway. It’s a bit gung-ho but it’s organised chaos, it’s brilliant.

Whether it’s a back three or back four, I can quite easily adapt to it.” 

Egan was naturally asked for his opinion on Aaron Connolly, who was called up to the Irish senior squad after his two-goal salvo against Tottenham last Saturday. 

“It was class for him”, said Egan. “A few of us were watching the game on the bus on the way to our game. I obviously noticed he was starting, and he had scored the first goal before we reached the stadium.

“I was buzzing for him, young lad from Galway. He came in last night and seems like a great guy, and if he keeps his head down he will hopefully have a great future ahead of him for club and country. 

“He is still starting out in his career, but he seems like a lad who can handle it and step up. If you make your Premier League debut against a really good team like Tottenham and you score two goals, the only thing you can take from that is confidence.”

Eoin Toolan and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to give an in-depth breakdown of where Ireland’s play stacks up against the contenders in Japan, and look into why New Zealand and England are primed for World Cup success.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Gavin Cooney

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