Sean Maguire has endured more than his fair share of all-too-familiar injury woes in recent years, so absolutely the very last thing he needed, days before Ireland hosted Switzerland in Dublin in early September, was something described by Preston manager Alex Neil as “the most bizarre injury I’ve ever seen.”
“Freak” is the preferred word of the striker himself.
“I think it was the Thursday before we were to meet up with Ireland on the Sunday,” he relates.
“I went to take a shot in training, and the ball ricocheted and hit me straight in the eye. I’ve got up and I can’t see a thing. Team-mates are calling me and I can’t see who it is.
“I walked over to the physio, starting to see a bit clearly in one eye now, and he had a look — and I had a thin red line going straight down my pupil and a bit of a puddle at the bottom of my eye.
I went straight to hospital and the blood pressure in that eye was raised four times higher than in the other eye.
Maguire subsequently learned he had reason to be especially grateful to the Preston physio for his prompt action.
“Yeah, if he’d left it even a couple of hours, worse could have potentially happened. For about a week I couldn’t see in the left eye and after that I went to see a specialist. She looked at the eye inside and out. She told me that I had to rest in the house in darkness, if I could.
"So you’re sitting there, you’re over-thinking, you hear about these freak things that happen to players, not just in the eye but other things as well, and you’re thinking ‘I could potentially be blind in one eye’. But thankfully I got through it.”
And then he remembers something else.
“The strange thing is, the night before it actually happened, I was reading about some guy who was in Love Island (Theo Campbell), he opened a champagne bottle and the cork hit him straight in the eye. And he had to get surgery and lost that eye. So the next day, I’m obviously thinking: ‘Oh, here we go’. But, actually, it was just a week before I was seeing properly again and I think 12 days after I was back training. And two days later we had a game and I was straight back in.”
All’s well that ends well then, though it would be understandable if, given his vexed injury history, Maguire — who was also sidelined with concussion this season — might occasionally feel cursed. Especially when you consider the impact injury has had on what he doesn’t hesitate to call a “stop-start” international career which has seen him collect just six caps and fail to open his goal account since making his first appearance, against Moldova, in 2017.
“Ah, unbelievable, unbelievable,” he says, shaking his head. “You couldn’t make it up.
“Two years ago, I’m doing well at Preston, getting my debut (for Ireland) and if I’m looking two years on from then I’d be hoping I’d be probably double-digits caps-wise and have a couple of goals under my belt by now. But things happen, injuries happen, like they have with me. Unfortunately they’ve came at a great cost, three pretty horrific hamstring injuries.”
Happily, Maguire can now proclaim himself free of the fear of a recurrence of his hammer horrors, thanks to an intensive maintenance regime which includes yoga, extra hours in the gym, and a physio who works with him at home a couple of times a week. Freak setbacks aside, it all seems to be paying off as, playing off the left flank, he has contributed three goals to Preston’s high-flying start in the Championship.
“Usually I don’t set targets, I take it game-by-game,” he says.
But I’ve set myself a target this season of at least 15. When I say that, I’d back myself to get at least 15, whether that’s off the left or playing as a number 9. If you are playing 40-odd games in a season, you should be really hitting 15 easily.
“I’m injury-free now and it’s probably the best I’ve felt in terms of being back to where I was at Cork and the first couple of months at Preston. So hopefully I can catch the manager’s eye in the next couple of days in training.”
All of Maguire’s focus this week might be on staking a claim for a role in the Euro qualifiers in Tbilisi and Geneva but mention of Cork City does prompt some painful reflection on his former club’s woes this season.
“It’s not good to watch,” says the one time hero of Turner’s Cross.
“They need to get over the line, win against UCD, and then scrap this season, really. It’s been a horrible season in every way. To see Cork like that breaks my heart a little, because I was only there a couple of years ago winning the Cup and the League. You look two years on and they are sitting third-bottom in the league. I still have a few friends there and it’s not nice to see. But hopefully they’ll win on Friday and then they can be optimistic and look forward to next season.”