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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 25 April, 2019
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Maguire savours his sweetest moment against the club that let him go

“When I celebrated the first goal I got spat on, so to come away scoring three goals was brilliant.”

WITH AN AWARD for his man-of-the-match performance under his arm, Sean Maguire emerged from the tunnel beneath the main stand at Oriel Park last night to find a sizeable group of people waiting for him.

That’s nothing new for the Cork City striker in the aftermath of a game. The vast majority of the 3,643 spectators had already departed the ground by the time Maguire left the dressing rooms before being greeted by a horde of journalists, all eager to hear his views on his contribution to a win over Dundalk which gave City an 18-point lead at the top of the table.

Cork City's Sean Maguire celebrates scoring Cork City's Sean Maguire celebrates after scoring his first goal against Dundalk last night. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Normally it’s a congregation of young City supporters that awaits Maguire after his side have played at home at Turner’s Cross. He was behind enemy lines last night, but a few curious local youngsters loitered nevertheless to get a glimpse of the man of the moment.

Such has been the speed at which his career has progressed in the meantime, it can be easy to forget that it was little over 18 months ago when Maguire was one of their own in Dundalk. Only after he left did the 23-year-old get a chance to show them what he’s capable of.

While Dundalk made a successful defence of their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title in 2015, Maguire made just six appearances — five of them as a substitute — after signing for the club that July. They didn’t stand in his way at the end of the season when John Caulfield offered him a fresh start down south.

Since joining Cork City, Maguire has scored seven times against Dundalk, including a winner at Oriel Park in March of last year, the decisive goal in November’s FAI Cup final, and a hat-trick in last night’s 3-0 victory for John Caulfield’s side.

Maguire proved his point long before the latest instalment of this intriguing rivalry, but this was particularly sweet for the Kilkenny native for a number of reasons.

“For the year and a half that I’ve been at Cork City, this is definitely the best moment of my time here,” he said. “Firstly, I got a lot of stick from the crowd from the first minute to the last. Actually, when I celebrated the first goal I got spat on, so to come away scoring three goals was brilliant.”

Maguire added: “It’s my first hat-trick for Cork — I scored one in the cup last year but [this was] in the league. There’s no better place to do it than up here against Dundalk.”

Cork City manager John Caulfield celebrates their third goal Celebrations for Cork City manager John Caulfield after Maguire completed his hat-trick. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Maguire ended last season as the SSE Airtricity League’s leading goalscorer and the former Irish U21 international has maintained that status in 2017. His 16 goals so far this year have been a crucial element in Cork City’s dominance.

But having conquered the League of Ireland, a couple of questions remain for Maguire: when will he receive international recognition at senior level and when will his seemingly impending move to Preston North End go through? Linking up with former Dundalk duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle at the English Championship club appears only to be a matter of time.

Despite being the subject of constant media speculation over his future for the best part of a year, Maguire hasn’t allowed it to become a distraction on the pitch — something Caulfield rightly continues to laud him for. The City boss admitted last night that a transfer for Maguire is close, but he praised the striker for remaining focused on the task at hand.

“I’ve never come across a player where the speculation has been so high since the start of the season and his mental strength has been incredible,” Caulfield said. “Players would lose form, they would get sidetracked, but his performances have been incredible. It shows mental strength, which proves to me that this guy is special and he’ll go a long, long way.”

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane were at Oriel Park last night and Maguire didn’t disappoint, although he insisted afterwards that he hadn’t been aware of the presence of the Republic of Ireland management team ahead of tomorrow’s friendly against Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium.

Maguire was reluctant to delve too deeply into what the future holds for him at club level. However, with a title race to finish and another Europa League campaign beginning later this month, the timing of a move away from Cork City may cause something of a conundrum.

“It’s a hard one,” admitted Maguire, who previously had a spell with West Ham. “But when you do well in this league there’s going to be talk about you moving. You’ve seen Daryl and Andy winning three in a row here and being the standout players for the past three years. They got their well-deserved move and made the step to England, playing with Preston in the Championship.

Republic of Ireland manager Marin O'Neill and assistant mangager Roy Keane watch the game Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane keeping an eye on the action. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I know it took Andy a while to get going but he was brilliant. The same with Daryl. They’re regular internationals now and that’s my aim. I aim to get to their level and hopefully some day I can.”

Maguire is scheduled to avail of the mid-season break by flying out for a week-long holiday today, but he says he’d be content to alter his plans if Martin O’Neill decides to offer him a place in the squad for the visit of Uruguay at the last minute — even though Maguire isn’t in a hurry to achieve his first senior cap.

“I still have a lot to learn to get to the international stage,” he said. “Funnily enough, I have 12 caps for the U21s and I didn’t start one. I scored three goals but I still have a lot to learn. I’m doing well in the League of Ireland and when I make that step to England then hopefully I’ll get the call.”

Sporting sons of Kilkenny aren’t usually welcomed with open arms on Leeside. Nevertheless, hurling rivalry has been put to one side in order for Maguire to be adopted as a Corkonian.

He said: “It’s funny, a Kilkenny man being cheered on by Cork people. But it’s great.

“When I come out of Turner’s Cross I’m always there for 45 minutes just signing programmes and stuff for kids. If I was that age and I saw my local hero coming out of the dressing room, and if he didn’t come over and shake my hand and stuff, I’d be gutted.

“It’s brilliant to come out of there and see that. To say that I’m their hero is the best feeling in the world.”

Maguire hits Oriel Park hat-trick to send City 18 points clear of the champions

Martin and Roy back from New York to see Maguire net hat-trick for leaders Cork City

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Paul Dollery

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