AIDAN Walsh (six times), Alan O’Connor (three), Ruairí Deane, Seán Kiely, Brian O’Driscoll – Ian Maguire’s 12 championship games for Cork have seen quite a few midfield partners.
The 2019 season will see more additions to that list as only Deane remains on the county senior football panel, with Killian O’Hanlon, Ronan O’Toole and James Fitzpatrick vying for spots in the centre.
As captain, St Finbarr’s clubman Maguire is surer than most of his spot but for Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division 2 opener away to Fermanagh (2pm), he will be partnered in the middle by Éire Óg’s Ronan O’Toole.
‘It’s something I would have discussed with my friends lately,’ he says, ‘since I came on to the panel in 2014 I’m probably in double figures for partners across all games.
‘It’s a defined position and chemistry is so important, the middle eight is crucial to any team. I don’t like referencing other teams too much but you look at Dublin over the last number of years, they had a lot of mainstays there, James McCarthy, Paul Flynn, Brian Fenton, Cian O’Sullivan.
‘It’s the engine of the team, you build from the inside and work your way out. You need a group of players who are performing consistently at a high level. If you get that, the wins will look after themselves.
‘We have strong competition in midfield at the moment and hopefully that will help to bring about those positive results.’
Maguire, a trainee accountant with Grant Thornton, will face into exams in April, by which time he hopes to have a good league campaign behind him, on a personal level and for Cork.
Obviously, everyone will have different definitions of what a ‘good league’ is, but Maguire is keen not to get too caught up in looking too far ahead.
‘A good league is being in contention for promotion,’ he says, ‘that’s always the aim, no matter what has happened the year before. If you won Division 2, you’d be delighted but at the same time, at the end of the day you’re judged on what you do in the championship. Last year, we went up to Tipperary and people weren’t expecting much from us but we had a good win and all of a sudden a bad Division 2 didn’t matter.
‘The bottom line is that Ronan has a plan for us and involves looking at each game on its own. We have Fermanagh on Sunday and it’s a huge game, we’re not looking two weeks or a week beyond it. The plan is to go up and get a result, you start putting small building blocks in place and progress from there.
‘The first game is important, we’re going up to Ulster and taking on Fermanagh, they’re a tough team and had a good championship last year. Every game is critical and you build confidence by winning. We have to start winning more, that’s the key to it all.’
Over the past two Division 2 campaigns, Cork have only won five of their 14 games, drawing three and losing six. The Rebels are third favourites for promotion behind Donegal and Kildare but Maguire knows that hard work is essential.
‘Graham Canty said recently that the middle of Division 2 is where Cork football looks like it belongs at the moment,’ he says.
‘It’s up to us to change that view and change the optics and the only way to change that and change the mentality is by winning games, nothing else.
‘That point is being driven home and we’ll be looking to drive it on. The U20s training with us have provided a big boost, there’s lot of quality there but we need to translate that into winning.