Ireland bow would cap Maguire’s perfect year

Two goals and regular starts for Preston in the Championship and a League of Ireland winner’s medal virtually in the post — all Sean Maguire needs now to complete a heady 2017 is to get the nod from Martin O’Neill to play his part in an Irish redemption song as the World Cup qualifying campaign reaches its conclusion.

Ireland bow would cap Maguire’s perfect year

Born just one month before Jack Charlton’s team played in the 1994 finals in the United States, the 23-year-old striker has hit the ground running on his move to England, something which will have come as no surprise to fans of Cork City who saw him develop into the most complete striker in the country over a couple of seasons at Turner’s Cross.

But should he end up on the pitch on Friday night against Moldova, Maguire will be acutely conscious of the twists and turns of the journey his career has taken to get him to that point.

“I’d be going back to the Aviva with some mixed emotions actually,” he says. “In 2015 I wasn’t even on the bench for Dundalk (in the FAI Cup final) and the year later I scored the winner. And now a year on, I’m on the verge of nearly playing for my country. It’s mad how football turns around.

“But I’ll be looking forward to the game whether I’m involved or not. Being in the squad is another step closer to achieving my dream of representing my country. If the gaffer gives me the opportunity, I’ll rise to the challenge.

"I’m just really looking forward to the experience of being in the same dressing room with players of the calibre that are in the senior team. For example, Shane Long. I’ve looked up to him in every aspect of his game.”

At Deepdale, Maguire is frequently being played wide or behind the lone frontman, an experience which continues to broaden his football horizons even if it has made goals a bit harder to come by than when he was banging them in for Cork.

“Most of my time at Cork City I played as a number nine,” he points out.

“John Caulfield, the way he had us playing was get it out wide and get balls into the box. I scored a lot of goals from crosses into the box from Karl Sheppard and Stephen Dooley.

“It’s been a bit different for me playing for Preston because I’m the guy providing those crosses. We play a 4-2-3-1 with (Jordan) Hugill as the focal point. I would have liked to score a couple more goals but my performances have been pretty good.”

On the impact on his football of moving from the League of Ireland to the Championship, Maguire observes: “I’ve slightly improved my game since I’ve gone to England. I’ve had to adapt to the higher standard. My decision-making has improved.

“I haven’t improved massively in the past couple months but I’ve slightly improved my game mentally as well because in the Championship you have to stay focused for 90 minutes.

“Against Birmingham, I was at fault for the goal when I tracked their left back and he cut in and scored on me. You’ve got to be mentally focused throughout the game and remain concentrated.”

Since Maguire and his Preston colleague Kevin O’Connor left Turner’s Cross in the summer, the then runaway leaders Cork City have taken longer than many would have predicted to get themselves to the brink of the title. But that hasn’t come as any surprise to Maguire.

“It’s been tough for them, taking any two players out of a team that’s been winning games consistently,” he says. “You saw it with Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle, how Dundalk struggled at the start of the season.

“But Cork are starting to pick up those performances and get the confidence back which they lacked.

“I’ve no doubts now they can go and get it — and hopefully they can then go and do the double against Shamrock Rovers or Dundalk.”

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