LIAM MACKEY: Sean Maguire’s redemption song

It’s the earliest of days for Maguire at Preston, but already there are grounds for hoping he can add many more verses to the redemption song he began in Cork, writes Liam Mackey.

It must have been a bitter-sweet sensation for Cork City fans watching Sean Maguire hit the ground running — and, of course, scoring — for Preston North End this week.

New strip, new team, new home but, from the perspective of Leeside, the same old Seanie, wasting no time in negotiating a route to goal and, at his first attempt, delighting the denizens of the Deepdale version of the Shed.

Turning on the ball in the opposition half just outside the centre circle, he leaned into his stride and accelerated towards his target. By the time he’d reached the Burnley penalty area, his fellow Irishman Eoin Doyle seemed to be in a much more promising position free to his left but, befitting a striker overflowing with confidence and self-belief on the back of his phenomenal scoring streak with Cork, Maguire, as he admitted afterwards in the well-worn phrase, only had one thing on his mind.

True, in what was, lest we forget, a pre-season friendly, the Premier League defenders lined up in front of him were almost literally standoffish but Maguire was only too happy to take advantage, ignoring Doyle’s call and drifting to his right before angling a low drive back across the box which left the Clarets’ keeper a flat-footed observer as the ball found the corner of the net.

His debut goal for Preston might have been one entirely of his own creation and execution but, notwithstanding Eoin Doyle’s experience on the might, when Maguire played for Cork he always found a balance between the necessary selfishness of a top-class striker and the selflessness of a team player who, especially with his back to goal, became increasingly adept at bringing colleagues into play.

This aspect of his game appeared to have come as an eye-opening bonus to Preston manager Alex Neil who said after his debut: “The one thing he did really well, which I didn’t expect too much, was his link-up play. With a small striker, generally you expect them to stretch the game by getting down the sides but he made himself a handful, took the ball and linked it.”

To which a chorus of Lee-watered voices would be bound to reply: “Sure, tell us something we don’t know, boy.”

It’s the earliest of days for Maguire at Preston, of course, but already there are grounds for hoping he can add many more verses to the redemption song he began in Cork. After all, this is a player whose first attempt to make it in England ended in the crushing disappointment of being let go by West Ham.

That kind of experience is sometimes enough to permanently derail a young player’s ambitions but, even after what seemed like another significant setback, when he found himself surplus to requirements at then all-conquering Dundalk, Maguire didn’t throw in the towel.

Like any self-respecting goalscorer, he just needed to be given one decent chance, and John Caufield duly provided it, the Cork City manager confirming his own eye for a golden nugget by describing the club’s new acquisition, when he signed him back at the start of the 2016 season, as follows: “He’s hungry, he’s a goal-scorer, very good at linking up the play, has a lot of pace and is a good finisher.” Over last season and this, Maguire proceeded to repay Caulfield’s faith — as well as living up to what some at the time felt was his manager’s extravagant billing - in sensational fashion, from his winning strike in the 2016 FAI Cup final to his 20 goals in 20 league games this year, a parting gift which has gone a very long way to helping put City on the brink of claiming their first league title in 12 years.

Maguire’s form for Cork already had many demanding that Martin O’Neill should call him into the Irish squad, a chorus which will only intensify if he can carry the promise of his Preston debut into the fully competitive context of a Championship season.

That’s a big if, of course. The Championship is a notoriously demanding league where, despite its rich history at the heart of the English game, a relatively modest club such as Preston will be expected to have to fight for every point.

But, at just 23, Maguire is only now coming into his prime as a footballer and, in tandem with his natural talent, the admirable attitude he has displayed in his career to date, bodes well for his capacity to make a mark in the new season.

Ultimately, the hope must be that he will then be even better equipped to step up to the next level and answer his country’s call.

With Ireland’s next two tests those critical back to back World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia, you would have to think it would require a pretty spectacular first few weeks of his Championship career for Maguire to convince O’Neill that he could exert an influence in either of those two games.

And the last thing the player needs now is to be over-burdened with expectation, as the long-running search continues for ‘the new Robbie Keane’. Before we get carried away about any contender, it’s worth underlining the fact that Robbie was a once in a generation deal, by some distance — and not just in the stats table — the best Irish striker of all time.

Sean Maguire has already passed some stiff tests in his career but the biggest ones still lie ahead.


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