Preston North End put on a show of support for Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor at Turner’s Cross last night, but new manager Alex Neil insists there is no special need to reassure the departing Cork City stars they are still wanted by his new regime.
Neil brought his squad to City’s Europa League tie with AEK Larnaca to watch their new team-mates. And while he admits the pair weren’t on his radar in his previous job at Norwich City, the Scot says that’s not something Maguire and O’Connor should worry about.
“At Norwich, we were more focused on older players at that stage, in terms of guys who had played in the Championship,” he said. “But nowadays any club that signs players, it’s generally never one person’s decision. It’s a club decision. There’s got to be a consensus that this player will improve the squad.
“It’s not as if these players have been brought in by someone else and now I’m here I’m going to say I’m not having them. I said when I got the job, I’ll be working with the squad we’ve got. I’ll be tweaking the squad rather than making wholesale changes.”
Neil was relaxing between double training sessions at the club’s base for the week at the Fota Island Resort in Cork, where Maguire and O’Connor briefly joined in after City’s win over St Pat’s last Sunday.
He believes the double swoop on Cork is a tribute to the impact his growing army of Irish players have already had at the club.
“We’ve really enjoyed this week. Now there’s a great relationship between the club and Ireland. But if we get players in Ireland and they don’t do so well, we stop shopping here. But the fact that these lads have come in and done extremely well, hence why people keep coming back.
“They’ve shown up well. They’ve got a great work ethic. They’re really hungry. They want to do well.”
Neil expects more Championship clubs to plan shopping sprees in the League of Ireland.
“It’s good value for money isn’t it? You don’t necessarily come over and have to spend millions. If you look at how well Irish teams have done of late, because they’ve got good players and done well at international level, people start to take more notice. And I think Ireland is certainly a hotbed in terms of young players coming through.”
However, Neil won’t be working with last season’s player of the year, Aiden McGeady, after he joined Sunderland last night.
“He did great for the club. We were paying a portion of his wage. But he was on a lot of money, certainly not comparable to what we can afford to pay. And because he’s had a good season, it made it that bit more difficult to get him.”
As Wes Hoolahan’s manager for two years at Carrow Road, Neil has noted the perennial debate about the Dubliner’s precarious place in Ireland XIs.
“It’s the same debate that you had at Norwich. When you’re at home and there’s a team you need to go and break down, Wes is one of the most creative players I’ve ever come across.
“He can change a game at any stage. He was fantastic for me.
“But equally, when you’re away it’s difficult. When you don’t have the ball, Wes is picking the ball up in his own half. He’s not naturally one who wants to run past people. He more does people with little feints and bits of skill.
“There’s a balance to be had. The skillset that Wes has isn’t necessarily suited to every single match.”
As for a versatile former Canary, Neil believes Robbie Brady’s skillset is best suited to the left back position.
“I think he’s at his best when the game’s in front of him. He can step in. He’s got an unbelievable left foot. He’s got great energy. I bought him for a good fee and sold him for a lot more. He’s a great player and deserves to be in the Premier League.”
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