Egan, John (1952–2012), Gaelic footballer, was born on 13 June 1952 in Tahilla, near Sneem, Co. Kerry, one of four sons and three daughters of Paddy Egan, a carpenter of Tahilla, and his wife Mary (née O'Shea), who ran a small shop there. He played Gaelic football constantly, despite the initial lack of underage teams within his remote, sparsely populated home region. After attending Tahilla national school, he boarded from 1965 at Sacred Heart College, Carrignavar, Co. Cork, where he benefited from the innovative football coaching of Fr Denis McCarthy. Initially playing in defence, he moved up to centre-forward for the Carrignavar team, which reached the Munster colleges 'B' football final in 1969. He also proved a fine hurler for Carrignavar.
He won minor and under-21 county medals with the South Kerry divisional team, and was a Kerry minor player (1969–70), winning a Munster minor medal in 1970. As a Kerry under-21 (1971–3), he won two Munster medals (1972–3) and an all-Ireland medal (1973). During the 1973 campaign he scored freely, roving between the full-forward and centre-forward positions, overturning a three-point deficit going into the last ten minutes of the all-Ireland final by setting up a goal, and scoring a goal and two points. At adult level, he was playing club football for Sneem by 1970 and was on the South Kerry divisional side from 1971.
By 1974 he was stationed as a member of the Garda Síochána in Cobh, Co. Cork, serving subsequently in Portlaoise, Co. Laois, and for a long period from the late 1970s in Kildorrery, Co. Cork. He continued travelling home to line out for a Sneem side that normally also included his three brothers, and languished in the junior ranks for much of his career. A half-forward in club football, he won two South Kerry championships with Sneem (1972, 1977) and two Kerry championships with South Kerry (1981–2). Making his debut for the Kerry seniors in November 1972, he shone in a mediocre team during 1973–4, punching a last-gasp equaliser against Roscommon in the 1974 league final. He was a regular on the Munster Railway Cup team from 1974.
Despite preferring the half-forward line, he was generally a corner-forward for Kerry, being more effective there due to his speed, relative lack of height, and knack for poaching crucial goals. Burly with superb balance and a low centre of gravity, he could reliably outpace his marker for balls kicked at or near him and keep possession until support arrived. As he was left-handed but right-footed, and boasted an immaculate technique, the ball went across his body as he soloed, travelling a short distance between foot and hand, which helped in holding off defenders. Combined with his bull-like strength, this made his direct solo runs difficult to stop without fouling. A disciplined player, booked only once in his career, and a clinical finisher, he was also competitive in the air and an accurate and intelligent passer.
He abjured alcohol until around 1974, but then took to it with gusto, struggling thereafter with his weight. In spring 1975, however, the new Kerry coach, Mick O'Dwyer, inaugurated a gruelling training regime, singling out Egan and other noted drinkers for especially punishing workouts that had them fit and relatively trim for each year's championship. (Taking up squash later helped Egan keep his weight down during the winter.) O'Dwyer also encouraged the preference of Egan and others in the squad for relying on swift hand-passing and constant movement with a view to drawing opponents out of position and then transferring to colleagues running into space.
In the first championship match of 1975, against Tipperary, a youthful Kerry side struggled to implement this controversial departure from the traditional 'catch-and-kick' approach, and faced defeat until Egan moved back to centre-forward early in the second half and plundered two goals and two points in four minutes. Thereafter, the team clicked, sweeping to an unexpected all-Ireland title. In the final against Dublin, Kerry never lost the initiative gained three minutes in, when a mistake allowed Egan to collect in front of goal and deceive two onrushing defenders by feinting to shoot before dispatching to the net. He ran Dublin ragged, ending the championship as Kerry's top scorer with a tally of 5–7, mainly as right corner-forward.
Dublin gained revenge by beating Kerry in the 1976 all-Ireland final and 1977 all-Ireland semi-final, as an intense rivalry developed between the two best teams in Gaelic football. The Kerry fans turned on their players, with Egan coming in for particular criticism – bizarrely, given that he was the opponent Dublin feared most and had excelled in both defeats. Previously shuttled mainly around the full-forward line with occasional appearances as wing-forward, he was ensconced in the left corner from 1978, as a settled Kerry attack emerged following the arrival of the tall, powerfully built Eoin Liston at full-forward. Liston allowed Kerry to vary their play with long, high balls, which he knocked down to Egan and the other corner-forward, Mikey Sheehy.
This rearranged attack was better equipped to topple Dublin in the 1978 all-Ireland final, yet Kerry were being overrun until Egan was put through on goal after twenty minutes. Catching the ball, he turned to see Dublin goalkeeper Paddy Cullen far off his line and bearing down on him. Most players would have been too surprised to react in time, but Egan instinctively hand-passed the ball over Cullen for a goal. Although largely forgotten because of Sheehy's celebrated chipped goal, which precipitated Dublin's second-half collapse, Egan's goal was more important because it settled Kerry. He was so often at his best when Kerry needed it the most because he had an unflappable temperament, exuding serenity before big matches.
Kerry easily won the next three all-Irelands (1979–81), with Egan powering past two Dublin defenders to score the clinching goal in the 1979 all-Ireland final; the only scare came in the 1980 all-Ireland final, when he failed to make headway against a formidable and ruthless Roscommon defence. Motivation became a problem and his performance level dipped slightly as his weight crept up. (Playing in front of the dynamic, but individualistic Pat Spillane could also be a frustrating experience.) During these years Egan's unselfish passing and running with and off the ball kept the Kerry attack flowing, a fact that was appreciated by on-field opponents, though easily missed by spectators. His understated efficiency and low media profile meant that he became the forgotten man of an all-conquering Kerry side full of outsized personalities. Unassuming and shy, he socialised with a tight circle of Sneem friends and relations; his Kerry teammates liked him without ever really knowing him.
With Kerry seeking a historic fifth successive all-Ireland title in 1982, Egan undertook the captaincy after prolonged wrangling involving him and his South Kerry teammates Jack O'Shea and Ger Lynch. (South Kerry, as county champions, had the right to nominate that year's captain.) Shrugging this controversy aside, Egan played a captain's part on and off the pitch, and was irrepressible in the all-Ireland final against Offaly, scoring three points and winning a penalty. Not enough of his teammates struck form, however, and Kerry lost to a late goal. This stunning upset hit Egan the hardest, and he never recovered his appetite for football, the more so because over the following months his twin brother Gerry drowned and his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
His increased drinking accelerated his decline, and he was dropped after Kerry's defeat in the 1983 Munster final. (Later in life he felt obliged to foreswear alcohol.) Following an injury to his replacement, he regained his place for the 1984 all-Ireland semi-final, giving one last virtuoso display against a brittle Galway side. Kerry won the final comfortably, but he was substituted late on after being shackled by Mick Holden, Dublin's best player on the day. An affronted Egan shunned O'Dwyer for several years, and announced his retirement from inter-county football in 1985. He played club football into the late 1980s, transferring in 1986 to the Bishopstown club in Co. Cork.
Scoring 14–59 in forty-one championship matches, and 21–59 in sixty-five league matches, Egan ended his inter-county career with five all-star awards (1975, 1977–8, 1980 and 1982), four national league medals (1973–4, 1977 and 1982), nine Munster medals (1975–82 and 1984), and six all-Ireland medals (1975, 1978–81 and 1984); with Munster, he won six Railway Cups (1975–8 and 1981–2). He was chosen for the Munster team of the millennium (2000) and the all-stars' all-star team (2012). In retirement, his reputation flourished amid a belated wider recognition of his importance to Kerry football's golden era of 1975–86.
Egan married (1989) Mary O'Halloran from Ballydooneen, Co. Kerry; they had a son and a daughter. From around 1990 he was stationed in Togher near Cork city and lived in the Cork suburb of Wilton. He played golf and coached several local GAA teams, including the Bishopstown side that lost the 2002 Cork senior football final. In February 2010 he fell down the stairs in his home in Wilton, suffering injuries that hospitalised him for eight months. His health never recovered, and he died in his home on 8 April 2012, shortly after undergoing heart surgery. He was buried in St James cemetery, Chetwynd, Co. Cork. His son John became a professional soccer player in England and was capped for Ireland in 2017.