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'There were stages where I just wanted to give up, I'd lost interest'

Sean Maguire has come a long way in the two years since missing out on being involved in the FAI Cup final.

Sean Maguire pictured at Ireland training today.
Sean Maguire pictured at Ireland training today.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

HIS CAREER MAY still be quite young, but it has already been a remarkable journey for Sean Maguire.

In 2013, he joined West Ham, having caught the eye as a teenager with Waterford United.

After failing to break into the Hammers’ first team in two years with the London club, he then linked up with Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk side.

Nevertheless, the player’s short-term spell at Oriel Park failed to work out.

He admits now that he considered quitting the game as his career hit an all-time low. After all, as he points out himself, it is just under two years since he failed to even make the substitutes’ bench for the Lilywhites’ FAI Cup final win over Cork City.

Nevertheless, Maguire’s career has gone from strength to strength since then. He may well end up being the League of Ireland’s top scorer two seasons on the bounce (he is currently on 20 goals for 2017, four ahead of his nearest challenger), despite his impressive form earning him a move to Preston prior to the start of the new Championship season in August.

The young striker also more than compensated for that Dundalk disappointment at the Aviva, scoring the winner against his former side to hand Cork an extra-time win in the 2016 FAI Cup final.

In addition to an encouraging start to life at Preston, in a further sign of how far his career has advanced in a relatively short space of time, Maguire has now been included in the finalised Ireland squad for the first time, having previously only made it as far as the provisional list.

I’ve been really excited ever since I got the phone call on Friday night,” he says. “It was just (a matter of) holding in the excitement.

“I can’t wait to get going now, I’m looking forward to the experience of next week.

You’re just looking at your phone the whole time (ahead of the squad announcement), seeing if you’re going to get a phone call to come in.”

A positive start at Preston has certainly helped his cause. Maguire has made 11 appearances in all competitions for his new side, scoring two goals, and helping them climb to sixth in the Championship, just four points off leaders Cardiff, while winning more than one man-of-the-match award in the process.

I’ve only scored a couple of goals. I’ve been playing out wide and in behind Jordan Hugill as a number 10. But we’ve had a great start and I’m loving it there as well.

“The gaffer there is a firm believer in working hard — we’re a young team, we do work hard and the results (have shown it has) paid off.”

Maguire also admits he is rubbing his eyes on account of his meteoric rise over the past two seasons.

It’s mad, I was just speaking to my mates there. Two years ago, I wasn’t even on the bench for Dundalk (in the FAI Cup final).

“A year later, I was scoring the winner (in the final) and a year on now, it’s a dream come true to represent my country — something I’ve been thinking about since I was four or five years of age.

It’s pretty surreal, having a bit to eat this morning and seeing the players I’ve been looking up to for so long. Shane Long is a player I’ve idolised from a very young age. He’s the type of striker I’ve looked at myself (as being similar to).”

The 23-year-old, who was born in Luton but grew up in Ireland, admits going from the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division to the Championship has not been an entirely seamless transition, with Maguire having to get used to playing out wide rather than as the main striker.

It’s a bit different to the League of Ireland physically and mentally,” he explains. “Especially playing out wide, you need to be concentrating for most of the game, because you’re defending 50% of the time.

“I’ve found myself playing all the way across the front four. It’s brought a lot to my game, my decision-making the last couple of months (has improved), I’ve improved my game physically and mentally.

If the opportunity arises for myself to step up on Friday night (against Moldova), I feel I’m more than capable of doing that. (Myself and Scott Hogan are) two strikers that score goals, we’ve just got to be ready to hopefully play a part.”
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Maguire’s progress is a testament to his resilience. Any Irish player who does not initially succeed in making a first-team breakthrough in England can now look to him as a benchmark for how to respond to such a setback.

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,” he adds.

“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 (Cork City manager) John Caulfield. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it wasn’t for him.

“It’s come around very quick, from being in the provisional squad last week to getting that phone call Friday to sitting here, talking to you.

This week is about getting myself geared up for the game, making an impression in training and letting the gaffer know what I can bring to the team.”

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