With Jonathan Walters injured and Shane Long enduring a frustrating barren spell in front of goal, the Republic of Ireland may well turn to an unlikely savour to ensure their safe passage to Russia next month.
From receiving very little game time on loan with Dundalk to recently being capped a senior Ireland international, Sean Maguire is now the name on everyone’s lips.
Having come to prominence after scoring over 50 goals in the 2010/11 season for Kilkenny kingpins Evergreen, the Marble City native subsequently began his senior career at Waterford United, making his debut in July 2011 against Mervue United. He averaged almost a goal every two games for the Blues finding the net on 14 occasions in 32 clashes in the league.
He was top scorer in the First Division in 2014, which peaked the interest of West Ham United, who signed him on a two-and-a-half-year deal in January 2013.
In what was a frustrating time in London, with Maguire never making a first team appearance, he was sent on loan to Sligo Rovers where he made his debut for the Bit O’ Red in February 2014 in a 4–1 away win against Crusaders in the Setanta Cup.
In September 2014 Maguire was on the move again as he joined Accrington Stanley on loan. He made his first team bow against Northampton Town on September 20 and celebrated with a debut goal in Accrington’s 5–4 victory.
In what was proving to be a busy season, Maguire was expected to return to West Ham at the end of the loan period but the Hammers parted ways with the Kilkenny man.
Maguire had by now grown weary of his English adventure and returned home to join Dundalk in July 2015. It would prove to be an unhappy spell at Oriel Park, however, as he struggled to make any meaningful impact.
While the Lilywhites won the title, Maguire was limited to just six appearances.
The 23-year-old signed on the dotted line for John Caulfield’s Cork City in December 2015 and began life at Turner’s Cross with a bang as he scored on his City debut in the 2016 President’s Cup final against former club Dundalk.
The Kilkenny man blossomed under Caulfield’s shrewd leadership and finished as the league’s top scorer with 18 goals.
He again came back to haunt his former employers in the FAI Cup final that year with a late, deflected strike sending City fans into raptures.
Having started this season in the same sort of blistering form it was widely reported midway through the campaign that Maguire had agreed a transfer to Preston North End, a club where there was already a large Irish contingent, including former Dundalk duo Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle.
It was also revealed Maguire would not be leaving the FAI Cup holders on his own, as team-mate Kevin O’Connor had also caught the eye of the former Leeds United boss.
Maguire would ensure both he and O’Connor left City on a high, scoring 20 league goals before departing as the Leesiders built up an unassailable lead at the top of the table.
As well as equalling Pat Morley’s goalscoring record, he also netted a hat-trick against Levadia Tallinn in a Europa League tie at Turner’s Cross, making him the Leesiders’ record European goalscorer. The young striker too finished the League of Ireland season as top scorer despite playing his final league game in the middle of July.
Despite the departure of the manager who signed him in pre-season, Maguire did not take long to make a big impression on the fans at Deepdale and his new boss Alex Neil having made the move from Cork at the end of July.
Maguire made his competitive debut for Preston on the opening day of the Championship and impressed for 74 minutes before being substituted while his first goal in the English second tier came against Barnsley on September 9.
The ex-Cork City striker recently scored a superb individual goal in the home loss to Brentford, and coupled with his recent cameo for Ireland against Moldova is giving Martin O’Neill the right kind of headache for the upcoming World Cup play-offs.
If Maguire does get the nod for the crucial double-header it will cap off a remarkable couple of seasons for the 2016 PFAI Young Player of the Year.
After a rocky start to his senior career, Maguire looks set to be a part of the Irish footballing landscape for many more years to come.