Saturday 21 April 2018

Stephen Hunt: Surprise package Seanie Maguire could be Ireland's ace to trump Wales

Sean Maguire.
Sean Maguire.
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

Our crucial game against Wales next month is going to be a tight, heated affair, like a local derby, and it might be that we will need a surprise package to come off the bench to win it for Ireland. And that man could be Sean Maguire.

The impact he is having at Preston North End in this early part of the season reminds me of Kevin Doyle when he first came over from Cork City to Reading. And having seen him live and watched his goals, it is easy to be impressed with Maguire so far because he is on top of his game and playing with real confidence.

Every player that goes from Ireland to England does so with enthusiasm and the desire to do well. That's a given. But you have to back that up with performances and, if you are a striker, with a few goals.

Doyle did that in his first pre-season and immediately picked up the pace and scored a few, admittedly mainly against Mickey Mouse teams. But when the season started, he was flying and earned the respect from his team-mates straight away.

As soon as he started doing well, people inevitably said what a great bargain he was. That can add to the pressure but Doyle dealt with it and seemed to thrive on earning respect from his new team-mates. He was prolific and backed that up with his natural enthusiasm. He scored 19 goals in that first season.

Because he did so well, Shane Long actually found it tougher when he came over at the same time as Doyle and he struggled to get in the team. But Long was still developing and was really a hurler who had come over to England with bags of potential and enthusiasm.

It is very rare that an Irish player will stay at an English club for more than 10 years, like John O'Shea at Manchester United, and steadily work his way into the team and play hundreds of games. Many have to take the hit of not making it initially, going back to Ireland, starting again and waiting for a fresh opportunity.

That has happened to Maguire who had to deal with rejection at West Ham in the first few years of his career and he had a number of different clubs before going to Cork and doing well. Sometimes young players don't have the temperament and are not ready mentally and/or physically, so need time to develop. That seems to be the case with Maguire.

The next big test for him will be when things are not going well again, but the experience and difficulties he has had already will stand him in good stead. It might be that he will need a rest in March, because he will have had nearly a full year of playing, and we should remember that. But at the moment he is full of confidence.

It would have been easy for Martin O'Neill to select him when he was a Cork City player and put him in the Ireland squad. Let's be honest, everyone would have been happy with that and asked few questions of the manager.

But I am a firm believer that you have to earn the right to play for Ireland. International caps should not just be handed out. Maguire has gone back to England, signed for Preston, started the season well, scored a couple of goals and now he deserves his call-up.

Even if he is not going to start against Wales, I would definitely have him in the squad, earning the experience of training at that level so he is ready for the next campaign. And maybe, just maybe, using him as an impact player against the Welsh.

Cork City manager John Caulfield deserves a great deal of credit for the way Maguire has developed over the last couple of years and I know that they have got the rewards for the endless individual sessions they've had.

Seeing him live, and watching the goals he has scored, Maguire is an explosive player who, because of his size, has the ability to come underneath defenders and surprises them with his strength and power. Many of his goals come from just half a yard away or when defenders are tight to him.

I am a big fan of David McGoldrick but he has been unlucky with his timing for Ireland with injuries and different things not going right for him when he has been called up. The timing just might be right for O'Neill and Maguire.

I got some stick last week for saying this final game is 'only Wales' but they know Ireland don't fear them and the first qualifying game in Dublin proved that.

If we have James McClean, Shane Long and even Wes Hoolahan starting the game, we might need a something from the bench to lift the side and the supporters. You need someone who is able to adapt quickly to the pace of the game and has an understanding that they have to be ready when they come on. Maguire could be that surprise package we need.

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