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23rd Mar 2018

Sean Maguire: An outsider at Dundalk to Ireland’s striker of the future

Jack O'Toole

On November 8, 2015, in what was to be the first of three consecutive FAI Cup finals between Dundalk and Cork City, lilywhites forward Sean Maguire watched the final as an unused squad member for the then League Of Ireland champions.

Maguire had scored just one goal in 10 games for Stephen Kenny’s side after joining the club from a loan spell with Accrington Stanley and he would soon be overlooked for the season finale in favour of Ciaran Kilduff (Jacksonville Armada) Kurtis Byrne (Linfield) and David McMillan (St Johnstone).

Not one of the players preferred to Maguire that day are still with Dundalk, and while the aforementioned trio are now plying their trades in various parts of the football world, Maguire is currently in Antalya, Turkey, preparing for Ireland’s international friendly with the Turkish national team.

But how did a player that couldn’t make the bench for Dundalk gain selection for the Irish team just over two years later?

The majority of people would cite improved confidence, an extended run of first-team games with Cork and a change of scenery for the significant uptick in Maguire’s performances, but when he was selected for his first Ireland squad ahead of last year’s World Cup qualifiers with Moldova and Wales, the player himself cited his parents and Cork City manager John Caulfield as the major contributors in his move from the peripheries of Dundalk to City’s best player the following season.

“There were stages at Dundalk where my head wasn’t in the right place, but I had good people around me that made that right,” said Maguire.

“My parents played a big part in keeping me focused and not letting my head go. There were stages where I just wanted to give up, I’d lost interest, but I’ll never forget that phone call I got off John Caulfield. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for him.”

Maybe Maguire wouldn’t be playing for Ireland if Caulfield didn’t pick up the phone one day and make him an offer to come play for Cork. Maybe Maguire would still have been fighting for a spot on Stephen Kenny’s bench. Maybe he’d be fighting for a spot on a different bench in a bid to save his career and sustain his lifestyle as a professional footballer.

Maybe he’d be at college. Maybe he’d be working a day job. Maybe he’s not working at all.

But the reality is Maguire worked hard to earn the opportunities he has with Ireland now and he hasn’t lost sight of how far he’s come over a relatively short period of time.

However, if he starts ahead of Scott Hogan and Shane Long on Friday, it could be the beginning of his transition from League of Ireland darling to Ireland’s number one striker.

Fans, both casual and diehard, love to see a League of Ireland success story and take joy out of highlighting where players like Seamus Coleman, James McClean and Daryl Horgan first started their careers.

But at some point, the shine starts to fade and it no longer becomes ‘jese McClean has done well to get here considering he was only playing with Derry City last year’ to ‘ahh for fuck sake McClean, stay on your feet’.

That transition can take a couple of years for some players, others a couple of games, while for some, fans won’t even give them much longer than a half before determining if they’re up to the required standard of international football.

It’s too early to tell what sort of player Maguire will be as an international forward, and a friendly against Turkey shouldn’t tell us too much either should he start on Friday, but what we do know is that he’s a player that excites.

He doesn’t have to be Lionel Messi to spark some life into this Irish side but he does show a willingness to pick up the ball and run at defenders.

Shane Long has generally tried to run behind the opposition’s defence for Ireland, while Jon Walters usually prefers to try run through defenders, but Maguire is a player that actually runs at them and looks to beat them off the dribble.

He can run and finish at the near post as we saw in his return to football against Bolton earlier this month, he can hold the ball up, feint and finish at the far post as you can see in the video above, and he can run at defenders and put them on the back foot as you can see in the previous video against Burnley.

Whether Maguire can replicate his club form consistently for Ireland is a big question but so far he’s shown the sort of dynamism, skill and flair that can inject some much needed life into this Irish attack.

For a team that relied at times on centre-back Shane Duffy as their best attacking option during the last qualifying campaign, Maguire now has the chance to stake his claim as the first-choice striker in what should be a new look Ireland team.

Shane Long has been abysmal for Southampton this season, while Scott Hogan would most likely be asked to fulfill a similar role to Daryl Murphy from the last campaign, whereas Maguire is somewhat of a wildcard for Ireland manager Martin O’Neill.

He also heads into the Turkey friendly in the best form of the three players after scoring five goals in his last four matches for Preston North End, so he’s also the logical choice too, not that that has ever meant much to this Irish management team.

Maguire’s inclusion, and possible start against Turkey, has created a nice narrative of the player that refused to give up, that persevered until he got his opportunity and is now reaping the rewards and living out his dream of playing for Ireland just over two years after he failed to make the bench for Dundalk. A significant rise for what could be a significant player for Ireland.

It’s a nice story, but how will Maguire write his first chapter in green?

Let’s hope O’Neill starts by giving him a pen first.

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