A glance at the opposition dug-out at Deepdale will send Sean Maguire’s thoughts back to Turner’s Cross and turn him into a star-struck schoolkid, momentarily at least, when he continues his return to fitness with Championship side Preston this afternoon.
A superb goal in his team’s impressive 3-1 midweek win over then-leaders Norwich provided the 24-year-old with his first goal of the season, a perfect pick-me-up after an injury-ravaged start to his English league career.
It was also perfect timing given the identity of Preston’s next opponents this afternoon, a Nottingham Forest side newly taken over by Martin O’Neill and the man who still sends Maguire weak at the knees — metaphorically, at least — Roy Keane.
“He’s a Cork man, I’m not, I lived in Cork for two years like!” joked Maguire whose partner, singer Claudia Rose, provides him with his Cork roots.
“But obviously, Roy is brilliant off the pitch, he talked to me a lot of times. He used to come to Cork City games when I was there. He’s a Cork City supporter.
“He knows my girlfriend’s dad, Ger, very well so it’s great to speak to him off the pitch. But when I’m speaking to him, I’m still in awe of him - ‘That’s Roy Keane!’ — but you just have to get on with it.”
Given the injury difficulties endured by Maguire since he left Cork for Lancashire in July 2017, it is safe to say that the roles of O’Neill and Keane have had a greater impact on the forward than might otherwise have been the case.
Taking his first steps into international football, after an initial call-up in the summer of 2017, has helped the striker to cope with persistent hamstring problems that have limited him to 19 starts last season and eight this.
“Obviously, international football is totally different to football in England,” he said.
I suppose the experience Roy has in all aspects of the game, and Martin more so, was important for me, just giving me little pointers here and there.
“International football can be a lot different at times and it’s a tough ask, coming from the League of Ireland, especially, then playing Championship football and then taking another step to international football.
“I feel since I went with Ireland I’ve grown as a player, I feel that bit more experience has helped me a lot. It’s certainly going to be interesting. I was watching the Forest game in the week against West Bromwich and it was strange, seeing all the backroom staff in Notts Forest gear.
“It will be great to get to see them Saturday. Obviously, Martin and Roy gave me the chance, gave me my international debut so obviously it will be great to see them. They’re pushing for promotion and only a couple of points off us so it will be an entertaining game.”
The O’Neill-Keane tandem is not the only managerial influence to have impacted positively on Maguire in his first 18 months in England.
Preston manager Alex Neil’s input has helped Maguire display a new level of versatility which will stand him in good stead for the future. “My preferred position is going to be as number nine but since I’ve come to Preston I’ve adapted to playing on the wing, playing number 10, playing out on the right wing,” said Maguire.
That’s down to the gaffer. I probably would have said before I came to Preston that I only had one position but I can play anywhere across the front four and that’s solely down to the manager and the way we’ve been working the last year-and-a-half.
“I feel I can push on now. I’ve got my first goal, I’ve got a couple of assists this season.
“I feel I’m still not back to my best in terms of fitness, sharpness, where I was last season, but I don’t think I’m too far away.
“Each game I’m getting sharper getting fitter, that’s solely down to match fitness.
“You can train as much as you want but match minutes is totally different to just training. But I feel great and the hamstring’s feeling great. I played 90 minutes at the weekend, 75 or so midweek, it’s a massive boost to my confidence. Even out there against Norwich, having a couple of hamstring injuries you’d think it would be playing on my mind, but it’s the total opposite.”