Sheffield United: John Egan's gruelling workload is laid bare after two Republic of Ireland outings

John Egan will return to Sheffield United after completing his second match in the space of four days for the Republic of Ireland, despite the Championship club’s hopes the centre-half’s workload would be eased following a gruelling start to the campaign.
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After being named in the starting line-up for last week’s defeat by Norway, Egan was also selected by Irish manager Stephen Kenny for the trip to Malta where a goal by Callum Robinson settled a drab encounter.

With those countries who have not qualified for the World Cup taking advantage of the break in many domestic fixture programmes to arrange friendlies, United’s Paul Heckingbottom admitted to holding “conversations” with many of his international counterparts about the demands being placed on players by this season’s fixture schedule.

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But Egan’s status as the Irish captain saw Kenny select him for both of their most recent outings, which are designed to help his squad prepare for next year’s round of European qualifiers. Already an ever-present for United, Egan has now taken part in 26 games since August - an average of one every 4.3 days.

Although the meeting with the Maltese proved to be a lacklustre encounter, Ireland’s trip to Ta’Qali Stadium was nevertheless eventful. Kenny’s team contacted UEFA after being denied access to the pitch before the contest, with their hosts insisting it was because parts of the surface had been re-seeded. Five minutes before the end of normal time, Mark Sykes then became the first person born in Belfast to represent the Republic in 76 years when he came on as a substitute. The Bristol City forward had previously represented Northern Ireland at under-21 level.

After being granted time off following their victory over Cardiff City earlier this month, a result which saw them climb to second in the table, United’s preparations for December 10th’s clash with Huddersfield Town will begin in earnest this week.

After explaining his squad would benefit from being allowed to “get away from football” for a short period, Heckingbottom is expected to grant Egan a short period of leave before he reports back for duty at the Randox Health Academy.

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Injury meant Sander Berge was overlooked by the Norwegians, although United believe the midfielder has now entered the closing stages of his rehabilitation. Greece’s Gus Poyet agreed to rest George Baldock following talks with Heckingbottom, who explained the wing-back has been playing through a hamstring issue in recent weeks.

Sheffield United defender John Egan has endured a gruelling run of games since August: Darren Staples / SportimageSheffield United defender John Egan has endured a gruelling run of games since August: Darren Staples / Sportimage
Sheffield United defender John Egan has endured a gruelling run of games since August: Darren Staples / Sportimage

However, United suspected that Egan’s importance to the Irish cause meant he was always destined to feature in both of their recent outings if fit. Former United attacker Robinson scored the only goal of the contest early in the second period, as Malta, 174 on the FIFA rankings, threatened to frustrate the visitors. Kenny has now travelled to Qatar to watch Holland and France in action, after Ireland were drawn in the same group as them ahead of Germany 2024.

Reda Khadra, on loan at United from Brighton and Hove Albion, appeared as a substitute for Germany under-21’s during their 4-2 victory over Italy in Ancona. Conditions at the Stadio del Conero were tough, following a series of thunderstorms in the region before kick-off.