Sean Maguire described his international debut on Friday as ‘the best moment of his life’.
And following the news that Shane Long has been ruled out of Monday’s crucial clash with Wales in Cardiff, the young Preston man could receive his full debut in the winner-takes-all clash.
Daryl Murphy is the man in form and following his two-goal heroics on Friday, to set up Monday’s game, it’s almost a certainty the Nottingham Forest man will start up top.
In the unlikely scenario that O’Neill should start two strikers up front, who will get the nod to replace the Southampton man?
The Ireland manager also has Robbie Brady and James McClean back from suspension and may opt not to start with two up top.
However, the Derryman called up Aston Villa’s Scott Hogan, Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien and ex-Cork City man Sean Maguire to his squad with the latter coming off the bench on Friday, suggesting he is currently ahead of the other two in the pecking order.
Long spoke glowingly of the Kilkenny man (via the Irish Independent) following his debut on Friday night.
“I’m delighted for him.
“He’s obviously come from the League of Ireland and over to England and he’s fine over there. Obviously being a Kilkenny man there’s a bit of rivalry there but I’m delighted for him.
“He’s really worked hard to get to where he is. He is still young and the future looks bright for him. When he came on he deserved his chance and getting that debut under his belt is obviously a big honour for him so I wanted to make him as comfortable as he could be.”
Coincidentally, yesterday marked two years to the day since Long netted a stunning winner in Dublin as Ireland beat the world champions Germany on the road to Euro 2016.
Maguire has had a sensational year and following his move to the Championship the striker still remains the top goalscorer in the League of Ireland. Not many would bet against the youngster doing something similar to what Long produced two years ago in Cardiff on Monday night.
While the Tipperary man has been struggling for goals his passion and energy will be missed. However, it could provide Maguire with the opportunity to finally impress O’Neill and make himself a national hero should he net a goal that advances Ireland to the play-offs for World Cup 2018.
Long’s omission could prove to be a blessing as he’s struggling to find form in front of goal. Maguire, if he is to feature, must be ready to step up.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena