John Egan - One of the Greatest

April 10th, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

All the great Kerry footballers I have been fortunate to have seen in action since 1955 have something that elevates them for some reason or another above all others. Individual brilliance, sportsmanship, off the field courtesy, style, and the possessor of a kind of aura and charisma which only the true greats possess. Men like Mick o Connell, Jack o Shea, Mick o Dwyer, Seamus Moynihan, Mickey Sheehy, Tadghie Lyne and others. We will never see their likes again. And there shoulder to shoulder with these Kerry legends stands John Egan. 

The Sneem man was special in ever way.  To see him in full flight whether it was with Sneem, South Kerry or Kerry was one of the great joys and blessings of Kerry football. Even to see him run on to Croke Park, Fitzgerald Stadium or other venues was in itself uplifting. He moved with grace, beautiful balance and a kind of softness as if he was avoiding treading on egg shells. He literally skipped over the ground.  John Egan was different to ever other Kerry footballer I have seen.  He had a brilliant football brain and all the different attributes a Gaelic footballer needed.  In fact the more I think of him the more I realize he was almost  the perfect player. And he was a deadly finisher when he got near goal.

He was without doubt born to be a Kerry forward.  Not a big man, he was strong and powerful and when he latched on to the ball it was literally impossible to dispossess him.  I can still see John in my minds eye in full flight racing in towards the canal goal in Croke Park, displaying this amazing skill of shielding the ball from his opponent as he closed in on goal. He was team player in every way, wonderful vision, always thinking of the next move while in possession. I can't remember him committing a foul, but he probably did once or twice, he never argued with referees and in many games I was fortunate to have refereed in which he played he was always the gentleman.  John Egan was a special person.

His early goal against Dublin in the final of 1978 was one of the most crucial ever. It set Kerry on their winning way when the Dublin tide of blue was seemingly set to engulf the Kingdom. I umpire in Sneem on a rain lashed February day in the early eighties as my own club Killarney Legion faced the home side. Conditions were horrendous; the field was a sea of water. John was magical, he literally glided over the surface, he scored 1-8 and destroyed us on his own. It was mesmerizing stuff, sheer skill and class.   I was fortunate to have befriended him in recent years. Always courteous, kind, generous with his time he would beguile you with his soft voice as recalled moments of his magnificent career. I loved meeting John Egan. You always came away feeling better for the encounter. In my forthcoming book to be published shortly," Chasing The Kerry Dream - My Beautiful Obsession" I name my best Kerry team, 1955-2011 inclusive. John Eagan was an automatic chose in the full forward line.  

To his heartbroken wife Mary, daughter Maureen and son John we extend our deepest sympathies.


High altitude climbing is recognized as one of the top ten most dangerous sports in the world. And yes mountaineering is recognized as a sport. The high summits have always been challenging and require extreme guts and committed determination to conquer the top highest mountain peaks. Besides the usual climbing dangers, people often have to pass over frozen dead bodies on the way and on steeps, on valley glaciers and in the snow-rivers. Up there every step is final as the gravity also works against climbers. When you reach the top you can enjoy your success. Remember your work is only half done and return will not be an easy trot. UV radiation can harm your eyesight and your accomplishment can make you careless. One can never think of medical aid, physical rescue or even helicopter assistance which is always uncertain under fast changing climate. The fatality rate is declining but is around one dying for every six summits.

This Wednesday evening on my special extended Radio Kerry In Conversation programme, 6 to 7-30 pm my guest is a Limerick man, Damian O Brien, author of a tragic but fascinating new book by Collins Press, entitled, "The Time Has Come: Ger McDonnell-His Life And Death". In August 2008 Limerick man Ger McDonnell, he won an under age West Limerick championship with his club Kilcornan in 1985 became the first Irish man to reach the summit of K2 the worlds most treacherous mountain. But what he and his fellow climbers did not know was that below them an avalanche had swept away their ropes. The decent witnessed one of the worse tragedies in climbing history. Eleven climbers died including this brave Limerick man Ger McDonnell.

Ger's brother-in-law Damian o Brien now presents the compelling story of Ger's extraordinary life and tragic death in this superb book. It pieces together the details of what happened on the fateful day in 2008 on that mountain, K2, the worlds second tallest. This mountain is one of the worlds most difficult and unpredictable of all. At 28,251 feet it is regarded by most climbers as the ultimate achievement in mountaineering. K2 is known as the savage mountain due to the difficulty of ascent and has the second-highest fatality rate among those who climb it. For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying. Unlike Annapurna in the Himalayas the mountain with the highest fatality rate, K2 has never been climbed in winter.

What went wrong? Could the disaster have been avoided?  The book gives graphic eyewitness accounts, interviews with surviving climbers, family and friends. It also addresses the hurt that the climber's family felt over an Italian team-mate's initial version of events. The Italian had said he believed that the Irishman was swept away shortly after he went back up towards the summit, perhaps confused by lack of oxygen. In fact, further testimonies confirmed that Ger had died after he stayed back to help two Koreans and a Nepali Sherpa who had become entangled in gear. It was well known that Ger, who had also climbed Everest in 2003, was a mountaineer who would go into the abyss, give you his shirt and help you to get out. The Limerick climber has received a number of posthumous awards, including the Best of Explorers Web 2008 Award conferred by the mountaineers' website, Explorers Web.

So what is so compelling about this mountain on which the former under age Limerick footballer lost his life? K2 is the second highest mountain on the planet at 8,611m to Everest's 8,848m. But what it lacks in stature it makes up for with reputation. Known as both 'the mountaineer's mountain' and 'the savage mountain', because of the barometric pressure, K2 can feel higher and colder than the world's highest peak. Scaling this also involves much more skill and technical expertise because it's a lot more vertical, with lots of rock and ice. There is also a risk of frequent avalanches of both snow and rocks the size of cars. Furthermore, the weather conditions are very unpredictable and localized, often changing from clear and calm to blizzard and gales in a freakishly short time.

Located in the Karakoram segment of the Himalayan range on the border between Pakistan and Tibet, the first serious expedition which failed was by Oscar Eckenstein and Aleister Crowley via the Northeast Ridge in 1902. Other failures including that by Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi in 1909, after which he allegedly declared that K2 would never be climbed. Following several more unsuccessful and often tragic attempts, K2 was finally summited on 31 July 1954 by Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni. According to the experts as of August 2008, only 305 people have completed the ascent compared to approximately 2,600 individuals who have ascended Everest. At least 76 people have died attempting the climb. That's a death rate of one in four. One of the worst years for fatalities was 1986 when thirteen climbers from several expeditions died.

"The Time Has Come" packed with superb photographs tells a fantastic tale of true heroism and determination against all the odds. It is not just about Ger McDonnell's last few months while on K2 but it is also the story of his life, a short one it might have been but it was filled with excitement, travel, and great adventure. You don't have to be a lover of mountaineering to enjoy this excellent book because between these pages you will discover what drove this exemplary young Limerick man, born on a dairy farm in the parish of Kilcornan just west of Limerick to leave home and travel the world risking his life in the pursuit of adventure. He had a passionate interest in hurling when he was young and in an interview for local radio he once joked, "I had to give up the hurling because it was too dangerous, I felt I had more control of the situation on the mountains than I did on the hurling field". Ger McDonald was a unique and special person and you can fully understand this from reading his story.

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