Paul Maguire’s goal laden six year spell at Inver Park had the historians reaching for the record books.
Maguire bagged a mightily impressive 92 goals across five and a half seasons with the club. He could well have been a member of the magical 100 club, had it not been for an earlier-than-expected exit from the club, at the start of 2017.
At that stage Maguire admitted he didn’t see eye-to-eye with then boss David McAlinden and it meant calling time on his stay at Inver Park. Does he regret not seeing it out until at least the end of the season, in search becoming the first player post-war to break the 100 barrier?
“When the dust settles there probably is a wee bit of regret and you wonder what if,” he admitted.
“To be honest though, it had just come to the stage where there were a few things I didn’t agree with from the management side of things and decided my time was up. A lot of people said it was about money and that’s why I left, but it wasn’t. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not money orientated. I just came to the point where I didn’t want to be there.
“There are times when you think it would have been nice to get to the 100 milestone, but that didn’t really come into my thinking at the time to be honest. Maybe some people think I should have bit my tongue and got on with it, but I made the decision I felt was right and the rest is history.”
Such has been the rapid change around the club it’s hard to believe it’s only three years since Maguire played his last game for the club. Nowadays he gets along to watch as a supporter, when time permits around his commitments with Larne Tech Old Boys.
“It’s good to see what is happening now,” he said.
“I would get down to watch the odd match when I can and there is a lot of quality in the dressing room. Of course you still think ‘what if’, in terms if I was still around when it was all happening. I wish I was 10 years younger to be honest, I would definitely be giving it a go! It’s great to see what’s happening though and hopefully the fans and the town continue to enjoy it.”
As Maguire looks back to how his chance came along to sign for Larne, he credits the persuasive powers of then boss Paul Millar. Millar, currently Glentoran’s assistant manager, knew what it took to give strikers confidence, having been one of distinction himself. It was enough for Maguire to be convinced that he should leave he comfort zone of Amateur League football at Wellington Rec, where he had been thriving.
“He got in touch with me to ask to meet me and we met in Daryl Service’s house, who was the physio at that time,” he explained.
“When we met, he told me that he would play me for 10 games in a row, whether I scored or not in those games. I had never really heard that before and it helped to relax you, because you knew the pressure wasn’t on to score straight away or you’d be out of the team.
“I was scoring quite a few goals for Wellington Rec at that point and it felt worth making the move, knowing that the manager would give me a good chance at it. To be honest though, I didn’t really over think it. When you’re young you don’t really overthink things, you just get on with it.
“Making the move with Niall McAllister was good as well, because it meant I wasn’t coming in and not knowing anyone at the start. There was already a tight knit group at the club, so we were coming into that.
“Windy wasn’t a bad player himself. You could see when he joined in training that he still had a good left foot and it’s always good to learn from a striker when you’re coming in as one yourself.”
The start to Maguire’s first season couldn’t have gone much better, as the goals flowed and an opportunity to claim the club’s first Steel & Sons success in some 40 years. The Invermen made it to the Steel Cup final, after a memorable run which included knocking out a Linfield Swifts side, which included a number of first team players.
“It was nice to get to the final, the build up to it was enjoyable but it just didn’t happen on the day,” he said.
“We had a good run that season and beat a really good Linfield Swifts team in the quarter-finals. They had Winkie Murphy and Kris Lindsay as their centre halves that day – I remember getting a couple of elbows off Winkie just before I scored as well!
“We had some good quality in our squad that season ourselves, the likes of Adam Dick, Robbie White and Marc Brown and a few others. Looking back you always feel you could have done better but it just wasn’t to be.
“The final itself was a funny sort of game. I remember I scored early on and it got ruled out, which I didn’t think it should have been. You cant take anything away from Bangor though, they were the better team on the day and they deserved to win it.”
With the final being played on Christmas Eve that year, Larne took huge numbers to Seaview, something that wasn’t lost on Maguire or his fellow players.
“The one thing you remember from the day was the crowd,” he added.
“Obviously the players had a lot of support from family, but the amount of fans who came out from the town was brilliant. To be honest, at that stage I didn’t realise how many people supported the club, and I suppose it showed the interest was still there from people.”
Paul Millar moved on just before the end Maguire’s first season, but he was convinced to stay on by incoming boss Tommy Kincaid. Kincaid’s stint was short lived, with Graham McConnell taking over the reins.
Maguire missed much of that season with injury, but returned to help the club stave off relegation threats. Despite strong interest from elsewhere, Maguire stayed at Inver Park with boss Davy McAlinden arriving in November 2013.
“Davy was a good manager, a good coach as well,” he reflected.
“He brought in the squad he wanted to, with a lot of good players at Championship level coming in towards the end of his time at the club.
“We were fairly close a couple of times. There was one year we started really well and kept ourselves in and around the top and then the season where we missed out on the playoffs by one goal at the end. Again, you look back and think we could have done this or that, but that’s just the way it is.”
During McAlinden’s time at the club, Maguire enjoyed playing alongside some prolific front men.
“I really enjoyed playing with Ciaran Murray,” he revealed.
“I remember the summer Davy brought him in. Davy wasn’t there for Ciaran’s first session and he phoned me to ask what I thought of him. I told him I liked him, he was greedy in a good way. He always wanted to score and that was just in training at Sandy Bay! It turned out that he was a goal machine and did really well for us in the time he was at the club.
“Big Keke was a good player too. He has that lazy sort of style, but he was a good player and got a fair amount of goals too.
“Around that time it felt like we dropped a lot of silly points. We were coming off in games frustrated that we hadn’t beaten teams we knew we were capable of beating.”
After leaving Inver Park, Maguire had a brief stint at Ballyclare Comrades, before moving to Larne Tech. The touch in front of goal clearly hasn’t deserted him, having bagged more than 40 goals last season en route to an Irish Cup quarter-final and promotion back to the Amateur League’s top flight.
“I’m loving it to be honest,” he said.
“There’s no real travel involved and we can go out and enjoy it when we play. Johnny Hastings has put together a really good squad as well, and I enjoy being part of it. Don’t get me wrong, I still get a bit frustrated here and there at 36-years-of-age but I’m really enjoying it.
“The Irish Cup run last year was brilliant, and those are the game you really enjoy, and will always remember. We had no right to go to the likes of Limavady and beat them, but I think it was just a step too far having to go to Warrenpoint, who are a Premiership side.
“I’m thinking of one more season and then we’ll see what happens after that, but I’m really enjoying it.”