When Stephen Maguire imagined what a return to Scotland might be like after four years of rewarding but personally testing exile in the backwaters of Loughborough, a B&B on the fringes of a business park on the periphery of Edinburgh was surely not what the Northern Irishman pictured as his idyll.
Living out of a suitcase. A man separated from his kith and kin. Reacquiring the role as Scottish Athletics head of development was designed to afford him the simple luxury of nestling his hat on a single homely peg rather than splitting time between here, there and everywhere.
Yet for the short-term, if not longer, Maguire’s decision to cede the bulk of his high-profile role as UK Athletics head of sprints and relays in favour of a second tour of duty north of Hadrian’s Wall has made him no less a nomad. “But it is a really nice B&B,” he grins in his Derry brogue.
However, if many in the sport were shocked that he should have traded a gig that delivered the Coach of the Year prize at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, plus a host of lucrative if resistible offers from overseas, then his constant partition from Georgina, his wife, and Shay, his son, was too large a burden to endure.
In the Maguires’ initial tour in Scotland, the trio arrived and flourished in unison. Lured south in 2014, his only child simply did not settle in Leicestershire and the tough call was made for the family to decamp back to his hometown of Strabane, adjoining the Irish border, while he commuted back whenever possible.
Which, given a cramped international schedule, and the workload involved in personally managing the egos of a group of highly-skilled but oft high-maintenance crop of athletes, meant visits were few and far between.
“It has been very tough and my performance at times suffered because of that,” Maguire acknowledges. “Because you wonder how things are at home when you’re away for a long period of time. You don’t come home to something normal in the evenings – that’s a challenging existence after a period of time.”
His choice alone. Selfish in a way, he admits, especially with the spoils that came with landing multiple relay golds at last year’s world championships in London and the reflected kudos from the solo success of the likes of Dina Asher-Smith and Zharnel Hughes, pictured, recently crowned as Europe’s 100 metres champions.
“I loved what I was doing,” he acknowledges. “And people don’t realise what a big team of people the sprints and relays had and I fronted it. And if you needed someone else in to be successful, you brought them in. It has been successful, with credit to a lot of people. I had to hold the vision and drive it through. But it wasn’t about me, and stepping back a bit and putting a canvas around my own life will help it.”
So why retrace old steps further removed from the limelight? UKA shrunk the gambit of trading big fish for small pond by offering the 54-year-old the opportunity to retain oversight of their relay programme while accepting a role expanded from when he left Scottish Athletics in mid-2014. “I always said I would come back to Scotland,” he smiles. “I had a great time.” No bluster either, given that any encounter I had with Maguire during his Loughborough years inevitably became an inquisition for news and tattle, peppered with commentary that affirmed his unbroken emotional stake.
Once a high jumper with ill-fated dreams of competing in an Olympics, his primary mission is again to nurture the aspirations of others who might realise such lofty goals. By setting out his vision for a future even brighter than the promising present. And constructing an ecosystem rather than utilised whistle and stopwatch at the side of the track. “I’ll not be doing the doing,” he underlines. “I’ll be influencing and helping.”
He has hit the ground running. Five regional gatherings inside a week. Miles racked up in the car bequeathed by his successor-turned-predecessor Rodger Harkins. What can I do? What can we do, he has asked those at the coal face.
At the sport’s high performance hub in Loughborough, he had every resource imaginable for the pursuit of excellence. The idyll – especially when there is now effectively a financial penalty for any Scot opting to take a well-trodden path to the adjacent university – is that future Laura Muirs off the production line can emulate the European 1,500m champion and suffer nothing by choosing to live and train close to home.
No great admirer of Scotland’s Institute of Sport during his first tour of duty, Maguire will seek out means to enhance the infrastructure available. Yet athletes, he maintains, must be free to plot the course that best fits.
“You can ask ‘should Scottish athletes be coached by Scottish coaches in Scotland?’ Given the best will in the world, absolutely. But I also believe athletes need to be in the best environment they can.
“Look at some of the great training groups worldwide, a lot of them are centred around a shoe company – so you have your Nike group, your Adidas group, the Brooks Beasts, Puma. They all have separate spots with athletes from different countries. That’s the way things are moving. But it doesn’t mean we can’t develop something in Scotland.”
This time, Maguire hopes, he will be around to witness the fruits of his labour unfold. If many see this is a golden age for the sport, then a Northern Irishman with a reputation for speaking his mind without undue pause for diplomacy should ensure no laurels are rested upon. Home back where his heart is, the investment will bring adequate returns across the board, he trusts.
“There is a potential there for Scottish athletics, and there aren’t too many jobs out there where you can have a full input into the pathway from junior into senior,” he says in excited tones. “I see it as something for the long term.”