It’s been a memorable couple of months for Sean Maguire. The striker has netted five goals in four games for Preston North End since returning from injury and the former Cork City finisher has been rewarded with another call-up to Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland squad. His success in the English second tier is a glowing endorsement of what the League of Ireland can offer and it further highlights some of the talent on offer in the division.
Many Irish football fans have been keeping a close eye on the results of Preston North End this season and they’ll have been delighted to see the Lilywhites flirting with the play-offs throughout the majority of the campaign. The Lancashire outfit can boast a strong Irish contingent which includes Daryl Horgan, Greg Cunningham and Andy Boyle. Sean Maguire has caught the eye with his performances throughout March and his goalscoring exploits could potentially persuade other Championship clubs to send scouts across the Irish Sea on a regular basis.
Maguire is far from the finished product but he has shown tremendous ability and positional awareness since making his return from a hamstring injury which he sustained in October. His performances have caught the eye and have even earned him another international call-up. He was originally named in Martin O’Neill’s preliminary 39-man squad and he came off the bench against Moldova in October 2017 to make his debut. O’Neill’s men weren’t able to book their place at the 2018 World Cup, crashing out to Denmark in the play-offs but Age Hareide’s side are hugely talented and some punters are considering them as lively outsiders, whilst others have tipped them to progress to the latter stages of the tournament. They are around 100/1 to clinch the Jules Rimet trophy but they are also a tempting looking 6/1 to reach the quarter-finals.
The Danes have been drawn in Group C alongside France, Peru and Australia. They aren’t expected to finish above Les Bleus, who are amongst the favourites in the outright market but there are a number of free bets available ahead of the tournament, including a £100 bonus from Bet365. This could be used to back Didier Deschamps’ side, less than favourites in the World Cup 2018 odds, as they aim to replicate their 1998 success.
Maguire is one of a number of players who have left the League of Ireland and further enhanced their reputation. Kevin Doyle went on to net 55 times for Reading whilst Burnley left-back Stephen Ward has enjoyed a fruitful career in the top two tiers. Further, down the ladder, Paddy Madden has enjoyed prolific spells at Scunthorpe and Yeovil and the much-travelled Padraig Amond is still scoring on a regular basis for Newport.
There is a wealth of untapped potential in the League of Ireland and whilst fans would prefer their stars to remain in the division, it is inevitable that clubs will start sniffing around them. The lure of playing at a Championship club is likely to tempt some of them away from Ireland with Dundalk’s Patrick McEleney already attracting interest from Brentford and Derry City’s Aaron McEneff also receiving some admiring glances from second tier sides.
Whether any of these talents decide to follow in the footsteps of Daryl Horgan and Sean Maguire remains to be seen. The division’s summer fixture list also offers the opportunity for scouts to submit reports ahead of the summer transfer window opening in the UK. Maguire’s emergence at Deepdale has certainly further opened up the possibility of many more Irish players following suit and his goalscoring exploits have surely helped raise the profile of the League of Ireland.