If you were a fiction writer seeking a flesh and blood hook on which to hang the drama of tomorrow’s FAI Cup final, you couldn’t dream up a more pivotal character than Sean Maguire.
Last year, the striker was a ghost at his own team’s celebrations as Dundalk beat Cork City 1-0 at the Aviva to do the double. Twelve months on, he’s returning to the same venue but this time to take on his former club in his prolific role as Cork’s leading marksman.
”Last year, not even making the bench in the cup final was heartbreaking because all I want to do is be playing at any level,” the striker reflects.
“I’d rather play with Cork and finish second and be disappointed than be sitting on the bench at Dundalk and collecting a winner’s medal that I don’t even feel I deserve.
“I was feeling like I can’t really let loose here (in the after match celebrations) because I’ve not really contributed anything to the team on the day. I was kinda like making up numbers there.
“I was devastated not making the bench but that was Stephen (Kenny’s) decision.
“He felt it was the right one and I don’t want to dwell too much on it and look back on it because I’m a Cork City player now and I’ve really enjoyed myself this season on a personal level.”
Still, you’d think it would be only human nature if Maguire feels he has a point to prove tomorrow to the club that deemed him surplus to requirements?
“I’ve proven the point all season, so I’m going to take it as another game,” he responds. “We’ve played Dundalk four times this season, and beaten them three times.
“It was great to get the win in the President’s Cup and beat them twice in the league. Up there (in the 2-1 defeat at Oriel), we didn’t really show up, so there’s a bit of redemption up tomorrow.
”We’d take playing bad and winning games instead of playing good and losing.
“Tomorrow is a big game for us and for the city, and as a team we are looking forward to it because we owe it to ourselves to put in a big performance and get some silverware.
“We deserve it as a team, and the fans deserve it more than anyone.”
The 22-year-old Maguire began his senior career at Waterford United where he was joint top scorer in the First Division in 2012, eye-catching form which secured him a move to West Ham United.
Following loan spells at Sligo Rovers and Accrington Stanley, he was released by the Hammers and joined Dundalk in July 2015, but he was limited to just six appearances for the Lilywhites before John Caulfield snapped him up for Cork at the end of last year.
“Maguire is a fantastic fella,” says the City manager. “He was on his knees last November, no-one wanted him, he had no offer, and I couldn’t promise anything other than if he put his head down and trained hard, he would get opportunities.
“He’s a fantastic person and I’m delighted to have him. When I saw him in pre-season working, I knew he was going to be phenomenal. He hasn’t surprised me at all because he’s got loads of talent.”
Certainly, Maguire hasn’t looked back since arriving at Turner’s Cross, scoring 26 times for the club in all competitions this season and answering his Ireland U21 call-up with two goals.
”When you’re a striker, you feed off confidence, and when you are scoring goals, it feels like every shot you take will go in,” he says.
“When I came to Cork, I started very well, scoring in the President’s Cup and then on my (league) debut. I hit form and got a goal early. I had a few blips during the season, I’d be the first to admit that, and John took me out of the team but I came back in as a better player.
”Playing games every week, you’re going to get sharper. Even mentally I feel a lot stronger and physically a lot stronger too. Playing week in, week out is going to do a lot for you.
“I feel more mature, like my decision making is a lot better. With each game I’m improving slightly.”
As the top scorer in the league with 18 goals and the newly crowned PFAI Young Player Of The Year, it’s hardly a surprise that Maguire regards 2016 as his best season so far in football — although he’ll reserve definitive judgement on that until full time at Lansdowne Road tomorrow.
“Finishing top scorer and winning young player of the year — if somebody had said that to me before the start of the season, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it,” he smiles. “It’s been a great year and hopefully we can top it off tomorrow.
“I’m really looking forward to playing at the Aviva now in front of a massive crowd from Cork, 10,000 or 15,000. They’ve been coming out in numbers in the league and in Europe, so we owe it to them to put in a performance and bring some silverware back to Cork.”
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