Kevin Kilbane believes that setbacks earlier in Sean Maguire’s career have been the making of the player and mean he won’t be fazed by the pressure on him to deliver goals for Ireland as the long-running hunt continues for a reliable successor to Robbie Keane.
“It’s what we’ve all been looking for,” says the former international. “[Someone to fill] the void. Even when Robbie was around the squad in his last year, but wasn’t necessarily getting the starts, the worry was where is the next Robbie going to come from?
“Shane Long has got so many different attributes but, in fairness, his goal-scoring record is not at the level of Robbie Keane, so we’ve wanted a player who can do it.
“I think Sean will be confident in himself that he can do it. He has a long way to go before he reaches that level and the expectations on him are great, but certainly, in his head, he will feel like he can take this mantle now and go forward and score goals for us.
“Speaking to him at Preston a couple of weeks ago, just before he was coming back from injury, you got the sense that he’s got that little bit of steel about him. He’s got the sort of mentality now where he actually doesn’t care who’s around him.
“Seamus Coleman is the captain and a figure most players would look up to, but I think he (Maguire) would feel as comfortable in Seamus’s company as he would do if he was with the lads at Preston.”
The vastly experienced Kilbane, who accumulated 110 caps for Ireland, makes a distinction between the hard-earned self-belief of Maguire, at 23, and the innate cockiness of Robbie Keane when the latter first broke through in 1998 as a 17-year-old.
“You’d have thought Robbie played a hundred international games when he first came in,” he says. “There are some people that take to it like that, but I’d say the majority probably don’t.
"Robbie was certainly in the minority in how confident he was in himself. It wasn’t even the goals he scored.
"He did deliver on big occasions and, in tight matches, he was the one who came through on so many occasions, but I think about how demanding he was every day on the training ground."
“I’ve never played with a player who was so demanding of teammates to get the ball to him. Even if he had lost the ball or had a bad touch, he was continuously in your ear to pass him the ball.
"That was his mantra: Pass forward and get me in the game. He still had that kid in him who was like, ‘give me the ball, let me get into this game’, and that enthusiasm rubbed off on others.
“I don’t think Sean has got the personality [laughs] or the character Robbie had. I think Robbie was unique in that way, but I think he has a steeliness about him that’s probably been built up from having his confidence knocked in the past.
Kilbane, who began his own distinguished senior career at his hometown club of Preston, has been impressed with how Maguire has handled the pressure of his move from Turner’s Cross to Deepdale.
“He seems to thrive on it, that’s the thing. I was looking at his record at Preston and his goal-scoring ratio to starts and games this season is phenomenal, given it’s his first season. For him, with that expectation on him, it’s almost as if it’s like water off a duck’s back.
"The way things are going in his career, he doesn’t need to be intimidated coming in [to the Irish squad]. He’s almost at the level now where he can come in and feel, ‘yeah, I’m good enough, this is me’.”
Maguire made his international debut when coming off the bench in the World Cup qualifier against Moldova last October, and recently returned from a four-month lay-off caused by a serious hamstring problem, to net four goals in three games for Preston.
The former Cork City striker is widely expected to make his first start for Ireland in their friendly away to Turkey next Friday.
Kevin Kilbane yesterday helped launch the Affidea Rock ’n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon, which returns to the streets of Dublin on Sunday, August 12, for the sixth time. To register for the event, go to www.runrocknroll.com
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