Talking to John Egan - A Real Kerry Football Legend

by Weeshie Fogarty

With his love for the big occasion and his calmness under pressure, it was almost inevitable that John Egan would score another goal in the 1979 All-Ireland final. That was the day when the great Dublin team of the 1970s signalled their demise. It was also a day best remembered for Mikey Sheehy's brace of goals scored as part of his recordequalling tally of 2-6 for a 70-minute final.

Not to be outdone, however, John Egan accounted for Kerry's third goal, which put paid to any hope Dublin might have of saving themselves from an embarrassing 3-13 to 1-8 defeat. "It wasn't as vital as other goals but it really killed the game that day,"John remarks.

"It was a good goal in the sense that the ball came from Charlie Nelligan, who kicked this long kick-out. Mikey Sheehy fielded it, moved it on quickly to Jack O'Shea and he transferred it to me.

"Paddy Cullen came to me and again I had the option of punching the ball to the net, which was very useful for forwards at that time. I punched it under his body. That was a great team goal because the goal came all the way from one end of the pitch to the other. It was a very decisive score.

"Just talking of goals, a fellow said to me: 'You know, Egan, you get a lot of lucky scores, you know, soft goals," "Well, I said, whether they're soft or not they're all vital. Would you believe it, I think a soft goal is nearly two goals at times".

Having won his fourth and fifth All-Ireland senior medals in 1980 and 1981, John Egan went for medal number six in 1982. That year even the dogs in the street could tell you that Kerry would achieve their historic five-in-arow. The only question was who from the Kerry panel would have the honour of captaining the side on this auspicious occasion?

As it happened, the honour fell to John Egan. It turned out to be a dubious distinction, however, given the events that unfolded in Croke Park. There would be no victorious speech from the Hogan Stand by the Kerry captain. There would be no historic homecoming to Kerry with the Sam Maguire Cup. Instead, Kerry succumbed to Offaly by the score of 1-15 to 0-17.

"I think I was made captain by the toss of a coin," John recalls. "There was a bit of conflict and controversy between myself and Jack O'Shea over who should be captain. I won it on the toss and it was very important for the simple reason that a five-in-a-row was never achieved before.

"To look back on it now, on the game itself, it's extraordinary that we were four points up with about eight minutes to play and we lost the match.

"You'd feel beforehand that if you were four points up with eight minutes to play, you should be winning. We scored 0-17 in that game and lost. We missed a penalty but you can always miss a penalty. I wouldn't attribute missing the penalty as having anything at all to do with it.

"I'd say that we played too fine and we weren't tough or rugged enough. Offaly got a lot of points, they scored 1-15 and I think we gave them to much freedom around the pitch.

"Fellows say lots of things, including that our midfielders went back into defence and we got disorganised. But if you look back on it now, it was an extraordinary game. I remember Micheál O'Hehir saying at one stage: 'There's a goal in this game yet.' I think even he could see the tide was turning against us.

"Offaly were hungry and the longer they stayed in the game and as long as the game was close, they really believed they were going to beat us. If we had pulled four or five points clear of them, I think their heads might have gone down. But we left them in the game.

"I suppose what makes sport is that extraordinary things can happen. Nobody could have written the script for that in the sense that Kerry had the five-in-a-row wrapped up. It was in the bag and then it was just grasped away at the last minute.

"It was a heartbreaking defeat because of the manner in which we were beaten. Sometimes you're beaten and you can walk away and say: "Look, we were beaten". But the manner of that defeat was hard to take.

"I think we had a chance of winning it and we didn't win it and we'd have to say that Offaly played exceptionally well on the day. It was a great game of football and Offaly were brilliant.

"But as time passes and the years go by, it is then you feel how significant it would have been to have won the fivein- a-row. Maybe we could have won a five-in-a-row earlier. We could have won '77, '78, '79. '80 and '81 maybe, but we didn't. Having lost in '82, that was it and it possibly broke the sequence then.

"The team started breaking up a little bit after that and a few new fellows came in. We went down to Croke the following year and we didn't prepare particularly well for it. It was a thunder and lightning Munster final and we went into the game probably not really keyed up for it. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that we lost.

"We lost by another last-minute goal. That was two years down the drain and two years in a player's career as he's getting older is an awful lot of time. I think that definitely broke the sequence of the great team. But that's the way it goes, as they say you can't win them all".

Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry side got their second wind in the mid-1980's, when they won a further three All-Irelands in a row. John Egan shared in the first of those triumphs in 1984. Indeed, he contributed to Kerry's successful championship campaign that year by scoring another of his nowfamous goals against Galway in the semi-final.

By the time the championship had concluded, however, it was clear that the end of John's career had arrived. In 1985 and 1986 his colleagues Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy, Ogie Moran, Ger Power and Páidí O'Sé went on to secure a further two All-Ireland medals, establishing a record of eight All-Ireland senior medals each. But John, who was there with Kerry that bit longer, had already retired, having accumulated six senior medals. "We had lost in '83 and I took some time out," John says.

"When you go over 30 and you start taking time out, it's like putting a good thoroughbred out in soft grass. You're inclined to soften up a bit.

"The rigours of training aren't there any more up to September. You're delaying training; you're putting it off and putting it off. Then you come back and you're doing these crash-courses in trying to get fit. But when your fitness goes and you're slower to the ball and you're getting cranky and you're not enjoying it any more, you just feel it's a chore.

"You have won it all and you're expected to win and when you start slipping at all and going downhill, hurlers on the ditch start talking. The confidence starts to leave you and you say to yourself 'Look, it isn't worth it any more'. You're gone tired, in other words.

"You could definitely play on and on if you wanted to, but standards wouldn't be improving. There's a time for everything. It's sad to see very good players playing when they're old. I won't say they're disgracing themselves or anything like that, but you definitely can't compete with younger fellows as you get older.

"I just quit and I was delighted. I made that decision. I quit club football and everything. Maybe a year after that you'd say: 'Did I make the right decision or the wrong decision? Maybe I should still be playing'. But I made the right decision and I'm delighted I made it myself. "I didn't have to be told to go and I wasn't asked to go. In fact, Mick O'Dwyer came to me all that winter to know when I was getting back into shape. But I had a great innings and I'm delighted I made the decision".

Throughout his career, John Egan became one of the most revered corner-forwards in the history of the game. He caught the eye despite being surrounded by so many other wonderful performers in Kerry's star-studded team.

Although sometimes overlooked by commentators and critics, his standing amongst his peers is quite remarkable and his fellowplayers repeatedly single him out for praise.

Along with his six All-Ireland senior medals, he won four National Football Leagues, four Railway Cups and five All-Star awards. Beyond the silverware, however, the lasting and most potent memories he left behind may well be the powerful and devastating goals he scored for Kerry throughout their greatest-ever era.

"It's everybody's dream to get goals and to score in big matches and to get vital goals. I find it very hard to put my finger on why I was such a prolific goal-scorer. I definitely had to have a natural ability to take the opportunity when it arose, which I suppose is the most important thing or an inside-forward. "I'm glad that they meant so much to my team and I'm glad that a lot of them were probably match-winning goals.

We won't talk about the ones that I missed, only the ones that I scored. "But it was a thrill for me to get goals and I suppose if it were nowadays, I'd have a fancy celebration like all of the soccer players. I'd love to be still scoring goals but I'm only scoring them in my dreams now. At least I can dream about the ones I got and not the ones that I might have got.

"I really enjoyed it. All these years later it's fantastic to see people watching the matches on television and still talking about us as a team. When we were playing we never realised how great we were.

We never realised the importance of it, how vital it was to other people as well, particularly people all over the world. "We used to do a lot of travelling to America and England and you could not believe what representing your county and going out into Croke Park wearing the green and gold jersey meant to people there. People all over the world got so excited.

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