DAMPENING the hype surrounding his talent has been Sean Maguire's biggest challenge so far, but the West Ham striker is concentrating on making his mark for the Irish U-19s tonight.
Paul Doolin's side face the Czech Republic at Flancare Park, Longford (7.30), in the first game of this week's double-header, with Maguire one of many teens aiming to stay in the squad for the European Championship elite-stage qualifiers in June.
Hammers manager Sam Allardyce recruited the 18-year-old on January 1 following his stunning first season with Waterford United, which saw him hit 13 goals in 24 starts. Among the luminaries the Kilkenny native has been compared to are Lionel Messi and Robbie Keane, so he's attracted plenty of attention on both sides of the Irish Sea.
"There was a lot of speculation before I eventually joined West Ham, with people hyping me up," said the Castlecomer man.
"I don't want to get too big-headed by looking to live up to that expectation. My aim is to do my best and see what happens from there.
"The Waterford chairman, John O'Sullivan, got a tiny bit excited by calling me the 'Irish Messi', but I've a lot to thank him and the Waterford United manager Paul O'Brien for in helping get me this far."
Maguire is set to lead the attack for Ireland in this first part of a double-header against the Czechs which concludes on Thursday in Athlone.
Also expected to feature on their return to the squad after injury are Blackburn Rovers midfielder Darragh Lenihan, Celtic winger Paul George and Kenny McEvoy, an exciting playmaker from Tottenham Hotspur.
These games mark the start of preparations for the UEFA elite-phase qualifiers, when Ireland will battle with Switzerland, Slovakia and mini-group hosts Serbia for a place in the Lithuania-staged finals.
IRELAND (probable) – Lawlor (Manchester City); McConnell (Manchester United), Hoban (Watford), Sweeney (Reading), Garmston (West Bromwich Albion); Sadlier (West Ham United), Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Miele (Newcastle United); McEvoy (Tottenham Hotspur), Maguire (West Ham United), Drennan (Aston Villa).