Call from Mick McCarthy has lifted Sean Maguire’s spirits

The encouraging phone calls from Mick McCarthy helped, as did the support of his fellow Irishmen in the Deepdale dressing room and the countless monotonous, gruelling hours he has spent in the gym.

But as Sean Maguire looks to restart his English league career yet again, in Preston’s meeting with Swansea this afternoon, there are only two things on the former Cork City favourite’s mind.

Fitness and football.

To say the 24-year-old striker has undergone 18 months of highs and lows at the Championship club would be a gross understatement.

Just a few miles west, on the Lancashire coastline, is the famous old holiday destination of Blackpool and “The Big One” rollercoaster ride on that town’s Pleasure Beach would be a more apt metaphor for Maguire’s injury-ravaged time under Alex Neil.

Signed in the summer of 2017 after his magical year-and-a-half with Cork, Maguire had just started to find his goalscoring touch with North End when a hamstring injury sidelined him at the start of November and kept him out until March.

Maguire’s return was spectacular, scoring five goals in his first four games — form that earned him a start for Ireland against Turkey — and he would go on to end the season as Preston’s leading scorer, with 10 goals, despite starting only 19 Championship games.

So far so good. But in the final pre-season game of last summer, Maguire suffered an unrelated hamstring injury and returned in October for six games and two Ireland internationals, only to suffer yet another setback, via yet another hamstring problem, in what was in danger of becoming a depressingly familiar pattern.

“It’s been tough, probably for 14, 15 months now. I haven’t been fully fit,” said Maguire this week.

“In pre-season I felt sharp, but pre-season friendlies are pre-season friendlies and I hadn’t played a competitive game.

“Since the first hamstring injury, I haven’t been fully fit and I want to get back to where I was before.

“Even after the first injury I scored quite a lot of goals but felt, at the time, that I wasn’t at my best. I felt I wasn’t as sharp as I could be. I was scoring a few goals but I wasn’t at the races. I feel I bring a lot more to my game than just scoring goals but I wasn’t doing a lot.”

If scoring five goals in four games is Maguire “not at his best”, then his manager Neil should be hugely confident that a Preston team ravaged by injuries is set for an upturn in fortune.

“Hopefully, I’ve turned the corner in that respect. I don’t want to keep looking behind me, looking in the past. I just want to look forward.”

The introductory phone calls he received from new Ireland manager McCarthy certainly helped in that regard.

In keeping with his overall career, Maguire’s international development has been a series of dizzying highs and frustrating setbacks — all related to injury.

“I’ve spoken to Mick a couple of times and obviously he will be looking to get over to Preston,” said Maguire.

“There is myself, Browny (Alan Browne), Robbo (Callum Robinson) and Graeme (Burke) — four of us here among the Ireland squad so I am hoping he will be looking to come over.

“He’s rung up already to introduce himself so I’m sure he’s going to be keeping in touch and coming to our games.

“Ireland has been disappointing. I feel like I haven’t really got going. I have four caps now and every time I have been called up and got a cap, it has seemed like two steps back instead of one forward. It has been quite annoying.

“But Mick has come in and now I just want a fresh start and hopefully will get into the squad, staking my place as a regular in the first team, staying injury-free.

“But the main focus for me is Preston and getting the club where it wants to be and that’s at the higher end of the Championship table and pushing into the Premier League.

“Hopefully now I’ve turned the corner with those injuries. I’ve worked hard in the gym, making sure it’s right, managed myself in training, talking to the gaffer and the strength and conditioning coach about managing my training load.”

Maguire is aware some of his problems may be down to workaholic tendencies on the training ground.

“I’m only 24 years of age but it’s about being smarter, making sure I’m training right.

“I think I trained the way I play and that’s 100 miles an hour! But now it’s just about being smarter in training.

“I need to take a step back and make sure I feel fresh for the weekend. I don’t need to be doing extra runs in training, I need to keep them for the weekend.”

Cork — and Kilkenny, where his family live — is never far from Maguire’s thoughts and he is a frequent visitor to both.

“I feel that I owe everything I am doing now to Cork City,” he says, of the club where he made his mark in the professional game.

“Before I went to Cork, I was at West Ham as a young lad and at Waterford United before that, but my name wasn’t really out there.

“I felt like I was going to Cork with just literally the attitude that all I needed was one more chance. Thankfully it was the right club at the right time and the right manager. And it gave me the chance to go to the biggest club in Ireland, you won’t get anything better in the whole country, and it just clicked for me.

“Long term, obviously my aim is to score as many goals for Ireland as I can. That’s what your dream is as a kid growing up in Ireland. Then you want to play the highest standard you can and that’s obviously the Premier League.

“But I try and take it week by week. I don’t want to look too far ahead or get caught up in this moment, that’s the only thing. I have learned that the hard way with all the injuries.”

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