Maguire: The heart and head of St Finbarr's

Maguire: The heart and head of St Finbarr's
Ian Maguire lifts the cup last month. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

FIONAN MURRAY told a story a few years back that gets to the heart of Ian Maguire’s influence on this entire St Finbarr’s journey.

I’d asked if his son Cillian ever asked much about Murray’s career or looked for advice and he replied no, that basically he had his own heroes now.

He mentioned some club league game when Cillian was just breaking into the senior set-up and had gotten a “well done” from Maguire post-match; the only talk on the journey home was of getting those few words of praise from the guy everyone looks up to and really this only followed the general trend where it appears a group of very driven young players were commandeered by an extremely focused leader figure in the Barr’s captain.

Ask in the club and they’ll talk about the culture behind the scenes that’s come directly from Maguire, the willingness to give the time and energy necessary and make playing and winning for the club a way of life, where a text will be put out to the players from the captain for a gym session and the younger lads are eager to not only follow the example of their leader but to keep on his good side also.

One club man told us a couple of weeks ago about Maguire turning up for a Barr’s minor session before they played a big championship match recently, where he took part in the training game himself to ensure the intensity and level of training was of the required standard and beyond.

It’s a bit too easy sometimes to compare a captain to the likes of Roy Keane or Paul O’Connell, but there is that kind of aura around Maguire, whereby demanding a certain level and setting that standard with the small details and the big statements, he’s dragged the whole senior group with him.

St Finbarr's Ian Maguire after the county final. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
St Finbarr's Ian Maguire after the county final. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

If sometimes a team can come to reflect its manager or its area or the traditions of a club in some form, it’s not too difficult to look at this Barr’s team and see something of Maguire dotted right through and it’s hard to think of a recent club team more obviously influenced by the characteristics of one player.

Nemo have always been Nemo through countless different groups of players; Ross came through as a group with one or two clear stars; Castlehaven had Brian Hurley’s genius, but always their own identity in the background; and if this Barr’s run just wouldn’t have been possible without Steven Sherlock’s pure scoring ability or plenty of other variables, well the heart of the team and the head of the team would still be Maguire.

It’s not a coincidence that the Barr’s are a hard-running, ball-carrying, down-the-middle sort of attacking team, when Maguire is the hardest-running and most effective ball-carrier in Cork football.

It’s certainly striking how many of their scores come from runners finding gaps, either with or without the ball through that middle third, and I can’t recall seeing a player quite like Maguire being able to make those gaps appear by running past opponents with the ball. Think of say Paul Kerrigan in these parts, who needs spaces to run into, or someone like Sean Cavanagh who could jink past a marker, but Maguire has the power and speed and this knack of brushing past a tackler without having to do any particular trick, only run.

Former Tyrone player Seán Cavanagh. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Former Tyrone player Seán Cavanagh. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

It’s a gamechanger these days anyway, that kind of direct ability to run past players, when many teams are going sideways or backwards with hand-passes and spaces to kick into are filled with bodies, and the Barr’s have taken advantage so many times of Maguire beating one or two men and slipping a pass to the next runner, or getting fouled for a free, or scoring himself.

There are some points to note here. If there are times when you’d wonder if it’s a little too predictable and stoppable as a Plan A attacking tactic, well then you watch Maguire take off past another poor marker at midfield and it appears almost unfair to allow such an obvious mismatch to take place.

Maguire wins a kick-out ahead of Paul Walsh. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Maguire wins a kick-out ahead of Paul Walsh. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Maguire can dominate skies if allowed: He fetched three or four clean kick-outs in the first 20 minutes of the county final and, when the need was greatest, he went into two one-on-one throw-up duels and came out with the ball both times.

His control and basic skills have come on too and it was significant that it was Maguire who:

Was handed the ball/took the ball at the end to offer control and conviction from those frees;

Slowed the game down;

Backed himself to find a teammate with kickpasses.

You get the feeling he wanted that responsibility for himself at that time.

It felt right anyway and there was a general feeling that all would work out once Maguire was on the ball.

What this develops into is unknown, yet it doesn’t feel like there ought to be limits.

Maguire has grown into THE dominant footballer in the county and it’ll be interesting to see what he brings now at inter-county level, whether he continues to play a sort of MD MacAuley role, or if he can add other creative element, consistent kick-passing and/or scores, like say Brian Fenton?

Brian Fenton kicks a point. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Brian Fenton kicks a point. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

His scoring rate has room for more contributions (over the five games between semis and finals these two years he scored 0-2) and it would seem a decent addition for a player who can make spaces close to goal to be able to pop points from anywhere within 30 metres at least.

There were spells of last season with Cork where he took off on a run past one defender, but there just wasn’t the cohesion or timing to have another player run with him and it was only against Tipp in the summer, where the team looked capable of allowing Maguire the environment to influence games with a batch of strong runners in that middle third creating angles and combinations together.

It would seem natural for Maguire to take ownership of this Cork team along with the likes of Sean Powter, to bring ambitions onto another stage.

The Barr’s are back, thanks mainly to the fact Maguire decided to make it happen and we wait to see what he decides to take on next.

Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

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