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Saturday 22 September 2018

Sean's goals show the way for new-look Ireland side

Maguire on goal trail with his club just in time for national service in Turkey

Sean Maguire scored again for Preston at Sunderland on Saturday as he prepares for Friday’s friendly with Turkey in Antalya
Sean Maguire scored again for Preston at Sunderland on Saturday as he prepares for Friday’s friendly with Turkey in Antalya

The form of Sean Maguire, and the promise of Declan Rice, will be the most valuable piece of luggage for a fresh-looking Ireland squad which heads for Turkey today in what could be a badly-needed fresh start.

The Ireland squad which travels to Turkey this morning is one that's light on experience.

There are eight uncapped players (including two goalkeepers) and a three-strong forward line which, apart from Shane Long, has just one cap (Maguire), to face up to Turkey in Antalya on Friday.

This week-long trip in Turkey will put some sun on the backs of the Irish players, once they managed to get around the snow-enforced travel problems - flight problems meant that Maguire and Shane Duffy were unable to make it to Dublin last night to accept their gongs at the FAI International awards (Duffy was senior player of the year, Maguire was the League of Ireland's man of 2017).

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Sunny on the Turkish coast, but everyone would much rather be in the position of a World Cup-bound Denmark, who have home friendlies against Panama and Chile over the next few days.

Maguire, however, stole the show at the Stadium of Light, scoring in a 2-0 win over a relegation-haunted Sunderland side.

Even though he missed four months of the season, Maguire is Preston's top scorer and boss Alex Neil is clearly pleased to see him back to fitness and form.

"That is five goals in four games for Sean, it had been the one area we had been lacking at times this season when we are on top and should be finishing games," Neil said.

"You need that guy who can put the ball in the net and Sean has been that man.

"I still think he's a bit away from his best but if you give him an opportunity in the box he's more than capable."

The thumbs up for Maguire, then, from Neil and next week O'Neill (pictured right) should give Maguire his full debut, the Kilkenny lad's nose for goal sorely missed in that debacle against Denmark.

There are some stories to look out for in Turkey next week, as Irish football still feels the pain of that loss to Denmark, but the main things to hope for are impressive moments from Maguire and Rice.

Rice and his West Ham team-mates had a few days off but the 19-year-old will be busy as he's expected to play for the Ireland senior side in Turkey on Friday and then come back to Dublin to line out for the U21s in a Euro qualifier at home to Azerbaijan next Tuesday.

The fact that Rice, name-checked by England boss Gareth Southgate earlier this year, is still in the Ireland fold is a bonus and while defection is always a danger, his commitment cannot (for now) be doubted, and the Turkey game on Friday gives us a chance to see what he's like at senior level.

Rice will be one of a number of debutants, others like Maguire, Alan Judge and Colin Doyle keen to move away from being one-cap-wonders.

The absence of senior keepers Darren Randolph, Rob Elliot and Keiren Westwood leaves O'Neill with three netminders to pick from: uncapped duo Kieran O'Hara (from Manchester United's U23 squad and Ross County player Aaron McCarey, as well as Colin Doyle (who is due to play for Bradford City tonight and then travel to Turkey).

The omission of Liam Kelly seems strange as his six goals for Reading makes him one of the leading Irish scorers in the Championship.

But other posers for O'Neill are whether the likes of Rice, Darragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams can add some steel to the Irish defence.

Up front, we can only hope that Friday brings a flavour of the talent of Maguire and the still-uncapped Scott Hogan, little to be gained from playing Shane Long from the start in this one.

Maguire has turned his career around after a series of lows, like not even making the match-day squad with Dundalk for the FAI Cup final.

He has taken the Championship by the scruff of the neck since his return from injury. Antalya will tell a tale, however briefly, on Friday as to whether the 24-year-old has what it takes at senior level.

A challenge, but the Kilkenny boy has faced them down before.

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