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Pulling out all the stops

IN the pantheon of great Gary Maguire saves, last Sunday's rapid reflex denial of Damien Hayes in O'Connor Park surely ranks as one of the most impressive of his vast repertoire.

A current All Star and an eight-year veteran of Dublin seniordom, Maguire's shot-stopping ability is arguably his greatest selling point as a goalkeeper but Hayes' strike – destined for the top right of the Ballyboden custodian's net after a sumptuous pass from Joe Canning – still sticks out for its speed and intuitiveness.

Whether he merely flicked out a hopeful stick or, more likely, read Hayes' intentions by body-shape and hurley trajectory will remain a mystery though, as the man himself politely demurs when pressed for an explanation.

“I wouldn't like to be saying now,” he smiles, before adding somewhat modestly. “Ah, it was a nice height. On another day, he would have stuck it. I was a bit lucky, to be honest.”

There was far more than good fortune at play, though. And the save made sure of keeping Dublin ahead going into half-time after a hugely fraught and tense opening 35 minutes.

But then saving shots and saving Dublin is nothing new for Maguire. He has seen the least of it and the most of it in blue in an eight-season stint as Dublin's number one.

He was there in the dark ages, conceding four goals in the 2005 championship when Dublin lost to Laois by 12 points and he kept goals in 2006 when the Dubs were beaten by Westmeath in O'Moore Park – a low water mark of modern small-ball times for the capital.

More recently though, he was an All Star and a League champion in 2011, a double-honour richly deserved and perhaps finally – and belatedly in many observers’ eyes – elevated Maguire onto the same goalkeeping pedestal as the likes of Donal Óg Cusack and Brendan Cummins.

Not that he sees it like that himself, though.

“Consistency is probably the key to being up there and being recognised as a goalkeeper,” he explains. “I wouldn't like to put myself in the top bracket yet but yeah, that's probably the goal.

“I have improved over the years. I'm playing pretty well at the moment.”

From the time of his debut, Maguire has been unquestionably Dublin's number one, a brief early-season stint abroad in 2008 besides.

And the recent upturn in fortunes for hurling in Dublin has coincided with his best run of form. Yet he insists even on the bad days, such as the two mentioned above, he was always optimistic that days like last year's League final and the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final were possible.

“There was always a bit of hope there. Seeing the underage teams coming through and winning, you kind of knew it was going to happen. There was a solid base there and a solid foundation that we could build something for the future.

“You're playing and you're hoping for the development squads to come through and that's the way it's turning out and long may it continue.”

The change has been such that in the relatively short span of Maguire’s career, Dublin are unidentifiable as their former selves but he insists the transformation is more complex than merely a new wave of more talented players.

“It's attitude as well,” he reckons. “The training we're doing now compared to what we were doing when I started is worlds apart. If we were doing the same kind of training back then as what we are now, who knows? We could have been as good then as we are now and that's being honest.”

A clubmate of Stephen Hiney and Conal Keaney, Maguire is understandably looking forward to their – and fellow cruciate victim, Tomas Brady's – eagerly awaited return to the Dublin ranks.

He does, however, warn: “You can't be judging lads on past performances … but we know what they're capable of and we know they'll do everything they can to get back up to that level.”

Nor did he spend the spring day-dreaming of their re-emergence, imaging the strength of the Dublin team for their presence.

“You work with what you've got,” Maguire reasons. “You don't think in ‘ifs' and ‘buts'. That's loser talk.”

The summer looms large for Maguire and his Dublin colleagues but first, there is the matter of next Saturday's relegation replay with Galway. The circumstances of last week's draw prompted more celebration from those in blue than their maroon-clad opponents but for Dublin, there is serious work to do this week.

“It felt a bit like a victory,” Maguire admits, “but we have to get grounded again and put the end result out of our mind because at the end of the day, it's only a draw. He adds: “And at the end of the day, it's only the League. So we'd want to get the heads down fairly lively and get ready for Saturday.”