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Dublin: 0 °C Sunday 18 March, 2018

'McGregor and Vardy decided their fate. If it's possible for them, it should be possible for me'

Chiedozie Ogbene talks about his departure from Cork City and why first team football is the key factor in becoming a top level professional player.

Chiedozie Ogbene has been a revelation at Limerick this season.
Chiedozie Ogbene has been a revelation at Limerick this season.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

IN THE UNLIKELY event that Chiedozie Ogbene no longer wishes to pursue a career at the top level of professional football, motivational speaking could very well be a good backup plan for the 20-year-old Limerick striker.

Speaking to the footballer you cannot help but be drawn in by his infectiously positive outlook on life combined with his inner belief and determination. Some might perceive it as bullish arrogance, but this simply could not be further from the truth.

This is because deep within the player’s core is a belief that he is destined for greatness. He admits as much himself, but alongside this confidence is a striking maturity. He is the first to raise his hand and admit that while he has come far in his young career, the journey is just beginning and there is much more work to be done.

There is much to learn and many aspects of his game to improve upon. But with a daily dedication to the cause of hard work and development, he says, all the while with eyes fixed firmly on the prize of making it as a professional footballer at the very top level, anything is possible and nothing is too far-fetched.

Chiedozie Ogbene Ogbene moved to Limerick at the start of this season in search of first team opportunities. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“That’s what I believe in”, he said speaking to The42 this week. “That’s the motivation I have and in my family that’s the way we were brought up — everyone is very positive and everyone is pushing to make it and have a better life. Anything is possible.”

His role models are self-made people. Athletes and competitors that wrote their own destiny and refused to live their lives according to other people’s assessments. Life, like football, is a game to be played. Ogbene realises he must have patience in the game of life, but following his move to Limerick from Cork City this season the forward admits he ran out of it at Cork and had to take his destiny into his own hands in search of first team football.

“I knew that I had to fight for my place and I have no problem having to fight for my place”, he explains.

But I looked at it and knew that I needed development. I wanted change as well because I didn’t want to get used to the same place. I had been at Cork City for a couple of years but at the end of last season I was hungry and wanted more.

“I had to be patient and I wasn’t patient, that was the problem. I felt that I had to do it now or never and that was what drove me to make the change from Cork to Limerick.

“I’m happy with my decision because with the form that Cork are in this season I’m not sure I would have gotten that much game time. It’s a benefit for me now at Limerick because I’m playing week-in, week-out. I’m getting physically stronger and I’m getting on the scoreboard too.”

Ogbene was born in Nigeria and moved to Cork in 2005. Ever since the city has been his home and being signed up by Cork City was a dream come true in August 2015.

Chiedozie Ogbene celebrates scoring a goal The player won the Enda McGuill Cup and played in the Uefa Youth League for Cork City's U19's. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He made his debut for John Caulfield in October of that year but made a name for himself playing for Stephen Bermingham’s U19s, who not only won the Enda McGuill Cup but became the first Irish club to play in the Uefa Youth League.

Ogbene was a hot prospect at just 19-years-old and made further headlines with outstanding performances in the latter stages of the 2016 season, which peaked when he came on in the FAI Cup final in front of over 25,000 supporters in the Aviva Stadium.

It was great. Coming up from youth level it is never easy to get as much game time as I did end up getting. Coming on in the FAI Cup final was the best feeling of my life, to be playing in front of 30,000 fans was incredible”, he says.

But the end of 2016 also saw the conclusion of Ogbene’s stay at Turners Cross. While many saw the winger having a prosperous future developing under the guidance of Caulfield in the city, a decision had to be made.

The City boss admitted honestly that first team opportunities would be hard to come by as the Rebel Army prepared for another title charge against Dundalk and despite still being in the early stages of his development, the player knew if he wanted to develop further his career lay somewhere else.

John was playing me at the end of last season, but my decision to leave Cork was in terms of my long-term. He knew what I wanted and he was honest with me. It wasn’t too much of a difficult decision going to Limerick. Last year was great and I was happy to finish like that. It was kind of a mutual decision because he was honest with me.

Chiedozie Ogbene and Christian Nanetti "I had been at Cork City for a couple of years but at the end of last season I was hungry and wanted more." Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I don’t want that short-term career. I want a long-term career and I knew that as an individual I needed to improve. At this age you need to go somewhere that you can get games and become strong and continue to grow.”

While it was a difficult decision to leave his local club, he admits it will prove to be the right one in years to come. Yet the move seems to be paying immediate dividends too. The forward has been transformed from a tricky winger to a fully-fledged striker with five goals to his name already this season: as many of Dylan Connolly and one more than Christy Fagan.

I have been trying to improve on that aspect of my game. Last season goal-scoring was one of my weak links so I put more and more focus on that in training. Goals are one of the most important things in football and are the only thing that makes the difference between winning and losing.

“Plus if you can score goals it takes the pressure off your defenders. If you get an early goal it means you can control the game. There’s no point in controlling and dominating a game if you don’t score, so I try to help my team every day by scoring goals.

I do put a lot of time and effort into it in my shooting practice. My position has changed this season from winger to striker and that gives me more opportunities to test myself and show my ability up front.”

A 5-3 victory for Limerick against Bray Wanderers at the beginning of June showcased how far Ogbene has come in such a short space of time. Viewed as a raw talent with future promise at the tail end of last season, in just a matter of months the player has not only converted positions with ease but is making the striker’s position his own.

The victory against Bray saw Ogbene bag a brace in front of the Markets Field. The first was a moment of complete annihilation showcasing all of the aspects of his game: taking possession in the centre circle, bursting through a shattered back-peddling defence before maintaining composure and rifling an unstoppable effort past Peter Cherrie into the bottom corner.

His second was another moment of lighting genius, taking the ball inside the penalty area, his first touch seeming too heavy before skipping it past his marker with one leg and slotting the ball into the far corner with the other in a moment of utter class.

Source: FAI TV/YouTube

“As a striker I get a lot of space and we tend to catch teams out on the counter when the ball breaks down in midfield. The first goal is one that I enjoy the most where I am running at defenders. I feel that I can change pace and change direction, so when I run at defenders they have to adjust their body, and I am use that to my advantage.

I do put a lot of effort in trying to use the pace that I have. It’s a confidence boost when you score and I’m always trying to prove myself because you train so hard and when it comes off on the day it’s the best feeling you can get.

“You just have to keep grinding at your work and hope that it comes off in games. It was a very special feeling to score those two goals in the Markets Field in front of the home fans.”

The move to the Markets Field has undoubtedly been positive for the player, but with other offers on the table and the option of going abroad it was the potential learning environment that made Limerick a no-brainer.

First of all I wanted to play first team football, but I also wanted to play in the Premier Division. That was the main point but even when I went first went there I didn’t know if I was going to get game time in Limerick.

“When I went there Martin Russell was very honest with me and he explained that he wanted to let young players like me go out and express ourselves. At that stage he was playing a 4-3-3 and that was very good for me because I got a lot of ball.

“The players have been very honest with me, but also very encouraging. A positive surrounding is what I needed as a young player coming up and I felt that was there at Limerick. At a club like this you are surrounded by positive people and they are encouraging you all of the time. I knew that this was a place that I could develop my skills.”

Chiedozie Ogbene reacts The 20-year-old has scored five goals so far this season. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

His suspicions of a lack of first team opportunities at Turners Cross have proved true this season, as the Rebel Army swagger nine points ahead of Dundalk at the summit of the Premier Division with the title all but wrapped up.

While some would guess that a player would hold regrets at missing the chance to win a league title with their local club, Ogbene maintains today that were he at Cork he simply would not be happy — even at the top of the table.

If I was at Cork this season I definitely would have been unhappy” he explains.

“I look at it like this: the wingers are on form, so I wouldn’t have gotten much of an opportunity. I would have only gotten myself a few games now and then. So I’m saying to myself if I was at Cork City now we wouldn’t be having this conversation about my career.

“I want to feel important in the team, I want to be the main man. I want people to look at me and say ‘this guy is an up-and-coming star’. The only way you’re going to get there is playing week-in, week-out and showing people what you have to offer. That’s the only way.

I’m happy with my decision and to be honest I haven’t been happier in my life since because I’m playing every week and things are improving and people are starting to notice me.”

The player is utterly infectious when he talks about his future ambitions. He looks to other self-made athletes as his inspirations.

“I always had that ambition, really. I played with four or five different teams at youth level because of game time so it kind of became second nature to me. I do listen to a lot of motivational speakers and watch people like Conor McGregor and Jamie Vardy who made it.

They decided their fate, they didn’t want someone to write it for them. I look at it like, if it’s possible for them it should be possible for me.

“You’ve got to push yourself in life and you’ve got to push yourself to the next level.”

Deep down he is trying to prove others wrong, others who didn’t have that same belief which he has in himself. Upon his departure from Cork many held the view that the club were making a massive mistake in letting the player go. Ultimately, he wants to prove it each and every week for Limerick.

I’m trying to show people that what I was before is not what I’m going to be in the future. I know I’m going to be something in the future and I’m always pushing, but unfortunately I’m not there yet. People always take me for what I am now, but they’re not looking at what I’m going to become.

Chiedozie Ogbene "My position has changed this season from winger to striker and that gives me more opportunities to test myself and show my ability up front.” Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Hopefully I will become what I want to be and show them what they’re missing. I always look at it in the long-term and not the short-term.”

The forward’s transition from a touchline-hugging winger with electrifying pace and an ability to beat his man at the first hurdle, to a goal-scoring striker mirrors that of another player he looks to for inspiration.

I would always look up to Cristiano Ronaldo. Everyone compares Ronaldo and Messi and I believe Messi is very talented at football. But Cristiano Ronaldo – I don’t think he would be where he is if he didn’t put the work it.

“This guy came from a small area in Portugal where nobody believed anyone could make it and he goes and proves them wrong. In my head I’m thinking, what’s so different about him?

“If you compare Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney when they were young both of them were supposed to be future stars. Rooney is a great player but Ronaldo went to another level completely, and he shows that with hard work anything is possible.

You might not be where you want to be right now, but if you keep doing what you’re doing one day everything will work out for you. I look at Cristiano and he said when he was young that he was going to be a Ballon d’Or winner one day.

Chiedozie Ogbene on the attack Ogbene in action against AS Roma in the Uefa Youth League. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“You’re watching this kid thinking, no it’s not possible. And what does he do? He goes and proves people wrong. He didn’t prove people wrong that year, it took him two or three years but he did win the Ballon d’Or.

These are the things that show me that it is true that nobody knows what you have in mind. You just have to keep working and hopefully it works out for you.”

Yet while Ogbene holds all of these ambitions he still remains grounded in a very serious way. It would have been easy to ride the bench at Cork when the offer was on the table to remain at Turners Cross and fight for his place.

But the player demanded more of himself and challenged his ambition. With players like Daryl Horgan and former team-mates Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor making the leap to the Championship, he sees playing in the UK as the next step.

“I’m 20 years of age and I still have a lot to learn and I still have a lot of weaknesses that I can improve on”, he confesses.

I want to improve as fast as possible and I know some people say that you should be making that move abroad at this age. But I’m happy to improve myself and help Limerick to get to the next level.

“At the same time I am going to improve myself and one day move on. It might take two or three years, I don’t know how long. But my ambition is to go to the UK and see what football is like at that higher level competing with better players and ultimately just try and improve as a player each day.”

Cork was where it all began and Limerick was the next stop. But if the past twelve months is an accurate indication of what is to come, the League of Ireland itself is merely a pit-stop for the forward.

With an inner determination which shows no signs of letting up, the sky is merely the limit for the talented 20-year-old.

For Chiedozie Ogbene the future remains limitless and, excitedly, the best is still yet to come. The player admits he has many skills to learn but restraint and biding his time is not one of them.

With goals to be reached and even more goals to be scored patience is simply not required. It only serves to slow him down.


Every week, we’re giving readers the chance to take us on in predicting the Premier Division results. After Week 19, here are the standings:

The Readers: 61
The42: 59

Next up is Colin Mullen from Dundalk

St. Patrick’s Athletic v Derry City — Derry City win
Finn Harps v Bohemians — Bohemians win
Sligo Rovers v Drogheda United — Sligo Rovers win
Bray Wanderers v Cork City — Draw

The42 (Aaron Gallagher)

St. Patrick’s Athletic v Derry City — Derry City win
Finn Harps v Bohemians — Draw
Sligo Rovers v Drogheda United — Sligo Rovers win
Bray Wanderers v Cork City — Cork City win

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