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'It was always Ireland for me... There was no decision to be made'

Islington-born Millwall attacker Aiden O’Brien says he didn’t think twice about representing the Boys in Green.

WHILE THE LONG waits involving fellow uncapped forwards Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan may have garnered more publicity in recent months, Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien has not been any less desperate to line out for the Irish senior team.

The Islington-born player may have grown up in England, but he has been involved in the Irish underage set-up since as far back as 2009, lining out at U17, U19 and U21 level.

I’ve always dreamed of playing for Ireland,” he says.

“I’ve always been waiting for the call to get an international first cap for the senior squad. I’ve never actually thought, when I was a youngster, that it was going to happen.

I was just always like: ‘Ah it might happen. I don’t know. It might happen.’ But as I’ve gone through the career, I’ve had a sniff and a bit more and more and obviously I’m here now.”
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It’s been a tough road to the top for the 23-year-old. Since signing his first professional contract at Millwall after turning 17, he has spent time in some less than glamorous environments.

Prior to breaking into the first team at The Den, O’Brien had loan spells at non-league clubs, including Staines Town, Hates & Yeading United and Crawley Town.

That was me learning my trade and getting out, getting some minutes in men’s football. It was vital for me. It’s done me the world of good now playing week in, week out for Millwall.

“I can’t ask for much more at the moment. I’m away with my national team and I just want to show everyone what I can do. I’m proud to be here.”

The young forward insists he has never had any doubts about his international allegiance, having grown up supporting the Boys in Green.

It was always Ireland for me,” he recalls. “There were no two ways about it.

“I was 16, 17. I had the option of going for Ireland and my dad got the call. There was no decision to be made

I’ve come through the ranks — now I’m here, I want to stay here.

“My whole family for a tournament would always support the Irish rather than the English.

My family from my mum’s side is born and bred Irish.”

Having started out as a striker, O’Brien has been playing predominantly in a wide attacking role for Millwall in recent seasons, and the starlet says he is more than happy featuring in this position.

He has played 10 times for the Championship club since the start of the campaign, scoring twice, including a vital winner as Neil Harris’ side upset promotion-chasing Leeds United.

I can’t complain. I’ve played on the left for two and a half years now, but I’ve scored goals and I’ve got my international call-up, so I’d be silly to say I’m not enjoying it and it’s not giving me success.

“I’m able to play most places in attack, so there’s no specific position (that I need to play).”

O’Brien has plenty of competition for a spot up front in the Ireland side, however.

Daryl Murphy Daryl Murphy pictured at today's press conference. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

As well as Shane Long, the uncapped forward has work to do in order to get ahead of Daryl Murphy in the pecking order.

Following a frustrating spell with limited game time at Newcastle, the Waterford native made the move to Nottingham Forest in the summer transfer window.

Since then, Murphy has impressed, having been given regular game time at the City Ground.

Indeed, with six goals, the 34-year-old is currently joint-second in the Championship’s scoring charts, though he will be aiming to improve on an international record that has seen him score just once in 29 appearances over a 10-year period.

Any player will tell you, you need to be playing week in week out to get that sharpness in your game,” Murphy says.

“At Newcastle, I knew I needed to bide my time and do well when I got in.

To be at Forest and playing every game is great for me physically.”

Murphy’s current progress is a reminder of how significantly he has improved his game at club level in recent years.

After joining Sunderland from League of Ireland side Waterford United ahead of the 2005-06 season, he hit a relatively modest tally of 34 goals in 10 campaigns thereafter. By contrast, in the four and a bit seasons since then, he has registered a far more impressive 61 goals in the Championship alone.

Relatively regular game time and the chance to play as an out-and-out striker rather than out wide (where he had been asked to do a job often in the earlier parts of his career) has helped matters, though Murphy puts his increasingly prolific form since turning 30 largely down to his know-how.

I think it’s just experience and being more mature when you’re put in different situations.

“When you’re playing and things aren’t going your way, if you’re younger, you probably can over-think and it affects your game.

As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that there’s no point on dwelling on the basics. The things you know you’re good at, work on that and the rest of your game will progress.”

Video by Eoin Lúc Ó Ceallaigh

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