Wednesday 19 December 2018

Irish must play green card

Neil Ahern

ARSENAL, Liverpool and Tottenham have all reportedly been keeping a close eye on his rapid progress.

At the age of 18, he has already played over 70 senior games and has just been the subject of a bidding war involving some of the top clubs in Holland.

And he's half Irish.

So why is Barry Maguire now being proclaimed as the future of Dutch international football?

Cruyff, Gullit, Van Basten, Koeman, Bergkamp, Van Nistelrooy . . . Maguire?

The Netherlands' football history is steeped in a tradition of class and technique.

And the Oranjes have played their part in some of Ireland's most memorable moments in world football, not least on that fateful night almost 14 years ago in the Orange Bowl in Orlando -- one which will haunt Packie Bonner for the rest of his days.

How cruel a twist of fate it would be, then, if the distinctly Irish name of Barry Maguire were to join the list of Dutch legends.

The FAI's new international performance director, Wim Koevermans, has already put Maguire on top of his list when he begins his job at Abbotstown on September 1, such is the quality of the young midfielder.

And he should know. Koevermans was the man who snatched Maguire from under the noses of Ireland and coaxed him into the bosom of the KNVB, calling him up for the Dutch U-18s to play against none other than Sean McCaffrey's Irish colts at Richmond Park last year.

But all is not lost for Irish football.

Maguire, born of an Irish father and a Dutch mother in Tiel, speaks in a distinctly Dutch tone and without a hint of an Irish accent of how he is still open to offers from the FAI.

"It's an honour to play for your country, whether it's your father's country or your mother's country," he said.

"Right now I'm only playing for Holland because they have asked me so if Ireland asked me to play for them then maybe I could play for them.

"I would have to make a choice but it would be real honour to play for Ireland."

Limelight

Maguire's name only really emerged into the limelight in the past month when he was snapped up by FC Utrecht of the Dutch Premier League.

Despite more lucrative offers from some of the larger Eredivisie outfits, he opted for the club just half an hour from his home and one which, crucially, pitched the offer of a big chance of regular first-team action.

Maguire has become accustomed to first-team football. For anyone familiar with the career of James McCarthy, another promising half-Irish starlet, the story of this box-to-box teenage player follows a similar trend.

At 16, Maguire made his debut for Den Bosch, the club at which one Ruud van Nistelrooy began his career, in the Dutch second tier and has since been a pivotal player, making over 70 consecutive appearances, playing almost every minute during that time.

Like Hamilton Academicals star McCarthy, Maguire's transition from a frail kid into a potential world beater occurred within the proverbial blink of an eye.

A versatile attacking midfielder, he is known to possess the kind of technique which, dare we say, is more synonymous with Dutch football than with Irish.

Now, he has been hailed as one of the brightest young talents emerging from the Netherlands and is expected to be put right into first-team action with Eredivisie mid-table regulars Utrecht, under the tutelage of another Dutch legend Willem van Hanegem.

His international career, unfortunately, is a little more complicated. Maguire has, in fact, played in an Irish shirt, when he was called up for an U-15 friendly against Northern Ireland.

His father, Martin, who, as a 19-year-old, travelled through Holland during a European sightseeing trip but never returned, was far from impressed with what was waiting for Barry when they both made the journey over here.

"I remember well that they had two games that day against Northern Ireland, so they had two teams, and he played 15 minutes," said the Dubliner, who played for Home Farm briefly as a teenager.

"I think there were 15 players from Ireland, who were living in Ireland and who they could watch every week, but they gave him 15 minutes and said 'you'll hear from us', but we never heard anything else from them until he was called up for Holland."

When he was called up for Holland a couple of years later by Koevermans, it was a twist in the plot that both parties could certainly have done without. Lo and behold, his first international appearance for the Dutch was against Ireland, in Ireland.

Irish U-17 and U-19 manager Sean McCaffrey, however, stands by the fact that he had invited Maguire to play for the Boys in Green for that very match, but only found out that he had chosen for the Netherlands when the Dutch Association sent the FAI details of their hotel arrangements.

"He was called into the squad and we told him we would include him in the next match. Now we didn't know the next match was going to be against Holland.

"We were then invited to a tournament in Portugal and I said: 'If we're going to Portugal there's no point in you coming with us and playing you in Ireland as well' and that was basically it," McCaffrey explains.

"And then when we named the squad against Holland, he was already in the Dutch squad. He never rang us to say he was in the Dutch squad and he had made up his mind as far as I was concerned."

McCaffrey's and Maguire's versions of events do not quite correlate, however, and Maguire's father insists that Barry was never given a decision to make.

"Somebody rang him up from the FAI to ask him if he was interested in playing for Ireland and he said he was, but then he never heard anything from them again.

"Then we saw a piece in the paper one day saying 'Irish coach disappointed in Maguire choosing for Holland' and I thought, Barry was talking to them and told them he'd play if they called him up, but they never did.

Discovered

"I was under the opinion that once the FAI had discovered Barry, and they knew about him they'd keep an eye on him, but I just don't think they work like that."

Martin still believes that Ireland would still be an option if they were to request Maguire's services, and the Drumcondra native knows which colour he would prefer to see his son play in if both associations came knocking.

"My heart lies with Ireland," he admits, "but it's his choice and it will be interesting to see in a couple of years if they both call him up.

"But at the moment his mind is being made up for him because he hasn't heard anything from Ireland in so long."

Only time will tell if Irish football lays claim to Maguire before the gifted youngster turns 21. It is a decision that currently lies with Giovanni Trapattoni and, indeed, Don Givens.

If not, however, Maguire could well prove to be a gem lost to the wreckage of miscommunications.

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