Martin O’Neill needs to blood the likes of Sean Maguire and Cillian Sheridan to ensure Ireland have a solution to the country’s long term attacking issues.
Robbie Keane’s long anticipated retirement last summer brought with it the never-ending concerns that Ireland’s attacking department has entered a critical point.
Strangely, Ireland’s current strikers have some of the best goal scoring records in recent times with Shane Long one place ahead of Kevin Doyle as Ireland’s 7th all time leading goalscorer, not to mention Jon Walters impressive total of 12 goals.
43 goals between the trio is a decent record and an accumulation of this many goals has not been seen in quite some time. However the problems extend beyond their statistics; it’s their ages. Long seems to be in peak condition and considering his workmanlike attritional game, Walters also looks to have a few more years left in him. However, it is hard to see them playing beyond five years time or at least maintaining perfect fitness between now and then.
Doyle has shown in his last few games that he is starting to struggle at international level. His start against Iceland in last month’s friendly drew frustration from many fans, especially given the fact that it was a missed opportunity to field two underestimated but very potentially capable alternatives.
Cillian Sheridan and Sean Maguire have been going about their goalscoring business for the past couple of seasons. Sheridan has enjoyed a spell in Cyprus, scoring 31 league goals for APOEL and Omonia and has scored three goals since his arrival at Polish side Jagiellonia where he has made an instant impression.
Maguire has recovered from a disappointing spell at Dundalk to thrive under John Caulfield at Cork City, topping the goal scoring charts in his first season at Turners Cross. Although he will probably never reach the levels of Robbie Keane, he is the first Irish striker in years to possess such a similar playing style to the former Irish skipper.
Ten years ago, Anthony Stokes would have been seen as Keane’s natural replacement. Still possibly one of Ireland’s best available natural finishers, the Dubliner’s career has declined dramatically and has only played a handful of games for Blackburn. Scott Hogan and Patrick Bamford, two other instinctive players have been talked about but their interest in the Irish cause seems limited.
However, Maguire and Sheridan are both first team players that are readily available and scoring goals. Both represent some alternative playing styles that are not necessarily present in the Ireland squad at the moment. Both are also relatively young, Sheridan is 28 this year but is still younger than any of the strikers included in recent Irish teams (Adam Rooney is 10 months younger) and Maguire is still only 22.
Sheridan is a tall and powerful striker standing at an imposing 6’4. Despite his size, one of the key attributes noticed as a youngster at Celtic was his tremendous pace and hold up play. Good in the air and capable of running at players, Sheridan is also a good finisher both in the air and off both feet.
Daryl Murphy has been used as the big man up front under Martin O’Neill but can be quite one dimensional at times and despite all his efforts has a poor goal scoring record with only one goal.
Sheridan could be the man to act as the battering ram in the air with good finishing capabilities. He is six years younger than Murphy and having played Champions League football will be used to the technical and tactical battles required for internationals. He is also a confident player who has not only taken initiative off the pitch to extend his horizons, but has also put it up to teams such as Barcelona and Manchester United in the past.
The perhaps less-travelled Maguire could also provide the youth and goal scoring ability missing from the Irish camp. Having excelled as a teenager for Waterford United, Maguire made the move to West Ham where he was part of the development team. Despite being highly rated, the Kilkenny native, like many youngsters before him, failed to make a Premier League breakthrough despite being very highly regarded.
Maguire struggled for game time at Dundalk but finally found his run of goals and games for Cork City following several seasons of frustration. Maguire has shown not only his finishing ability but also his competence in running between gaps in defence and getting himself into goal scoring positions. This was a tremendous attribute that made Robbie Keane so successful and is something that Maguire seems to have worked on under Caulfield.
Maguire has a similar build to Keane and would represent a pacy alternative for Martin O’Neill who, bar Shane Long, is not blessed with the most mobile of strikers. Despite drastic improvements under O’Neill in recent years, Ireland’s threat in the final third and the finishing ability of strikers seems to be one of the missing ingredients to an overall consistency.
Ultimately, Sheridan and Maguire might not be up to scratch. Although both are performing well domestically, domestic goalscorers in the past like Stokes, Murphy and Rooney have failed to make the important transition to international football.
Iceland would have been the ideal audition but, alas it was to no avail. Kevin Doyle was given the opportunity to justify his selection and failed to do so, meaning that at least one of this duo should be given a run out in the summer friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay.
The priority is this campaign and Shane Long, Jon Walters and Daryl Murphy are the forwards tasked with the immediate. However, over the next couple of years, the blooding of at least Maguire while these experienced heads are still around could be deemed as an essential exercise.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena.