By Ronan Murphy
Kilkenny native Sean Maguire is the latest League of Ireland export to move to the Premier League, following the likes of James McClean, Kevin Doyle, and Shane Long across the water. Like McClean, Maguire is somewhat of an unknown commodity outside of Airtricity League circles, despite helping Waterford United to a playoff place in his first full season at the club.
James McClean's goalscoring prowess in the Airtricity First Division as a teenager showed the undeniable potential of the winger, and likewise Sean Maguire's 13-goal haul saw him finish the season as top scorer and catch the eye of English scouts.
A schoolboy with Deen Celtic and Ormonde Villa, Maguire moved to renowned local club Evergreen, who honed his talents. Evergreen are noted for having produced the likes of former Sunderland striker Michael Reddy and Aston Villa prospect Michael Drennan.
While playing with Evergreen, Maguire also lined out for the Kilkenny & District League, scoring a hat-trick against Cork in their Youth All-Ireland Final victory, leading to his capture by Waterford United. Stellar performances for the Blues' Under-19 side saw the attacker fast-tracked into the senior side, making his debut against Mervue United in July 2011, and netting his first senior goal against rivals Wexford Youths in the second last game of the season.
This season, 18-year-old Maguire has been a phenomenon, and was the only First Division player nominated in the PFAI League of Ireland Awards, for Best Young Player. 13 goals in 22 starts - including a hat-trick against Longford Town - saw Maguire drive Waterford United to second place in the table, but the Blues missed out on promotion with a playoff loss to Dundalk.
Maguire is a constant goal threat, something which attracted the attention of Republic of Ireland Under-19 manager Paul Doolin, who handed him is first international start in Latvia in September.
Waterford United manager Paul O'Brien gushed any time he spoke about Maguire, telling the Irish Times: "He's a great prospect. He can play up top or in the hole, the number 10 role.
"Wherever you ask him to play he'll play. He just loves playing. But that's where he causes teams most problem, in the role behind the main striker.
It is a view Waterford chairman John O'Sullivan shares, who feels Maguire plays in a similar fashion to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
"I'm a great fan of Lionel Messi at Barcelona. When I look at Seanie, he really reminds me of him," he told BBC Sport.
"Seanie has the same kind of balance, burst of speed and he's powerful on the ball. He has everything going for him.
"If Seanie keeps progressing the way he is, it won't be long before he's getting first-team football at West Ham. There is no question whatsoever he will be a star one day for the Republic of Ireland."
A trial to Derby County in August was called off after a waterlogged pitch forced an FAI Cup tie to be rescheduled, while moves to Aston Villa, Charlton Athletic, and Peterborough United had all been mooted. However, Maguire has signed an 18-month contract at Upton Park after impressing Sam Allardyce, and can now become the next League of Ireland export to make it in the Premier League.