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'I’m still nervous and checking the list' - Ireland regular Ogbene not resting on his laurels

Chiedozie Ogbene has become a regular at international level, but he is refusing to take anything for granted.

Chiedozie Ogbene.
Chiedozie Ogbene.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Mar 24th 2022, 12:01 PM

CHIEDOZIE OGBENE HAS long-since sealed his place in the history books but he isn’t resting on his laurels as regards his place in the Irish team. 

Ogbene last year became the first African-born player to play and then score at senior level for Ireland. The first came in a feral atmosphere away to Hungary; the second in the more sedate surroundings of an almost empty stadium in Baku. 

He followed that up by starting and scoring against Luxembourg in the last of Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers in November, but, he says, he doesn’t yet feel like an established member of the squad. 

“Honestly I don’t know”, says Ogbene. “Every time I get called, I’m still nervous and checking the list and hopefully I am involved. And when it comes to the first day of training I am nervous and playing against the players in the Championship and I’m still in League One. I just have to get that out of my head. I’m here for a reason.” 

He credits his manager with building that confidence. 

“He is always in my ear. When I first came in here I was a League One player, looking in awe at Premier League and Championship players who have many caps. He just said ‘Chiedozie, you are capable of this level and that is why I believe in you’.

“When the manager tells you that and says don’t be afraid to make mistakes; when you make mistakes you look back [at him] and he claps you. That does give you a confidence boost to keep going and when you have no fear of making mistakes, that’s when you’re at your best. Him and Keith are constantly encouraging me.” 

After this week’s international friendlies are dealt with, Ogbene’s focus will be return to changing the underlying fact of the above paragraphs. 

“I want to be in the Championship next season because when we’re in the Nations League, we’re not playing League One teams. We’ll be playing top countries.” His Rotherham side are well-placed for a return to England’s second tier, top of the league with seven games to go. It’s not done and dusted yet, however: Wigan are a point and a place behind with two games in hand, while Troy Parrott and MK Dons are lurking with intent in third, four points behind in third place, which is just outside the automatic promotion places. 

“80 points would usually be enough but it’s a tough season this year and it’s not enough, so we’re just trying to get over the line and hopefully we get promotion”, says Ogbene. The domestic season also promises Ogbene’s first trip to Wembley and a Cup final in the EFL Trophy (currently carrying Papa John’s as its title sponsor.) 

“I’ve never played at Wembley and I’m excited. Hopefully I can win this trophy and never have to play in the competition again!”, laughs Ogbene of a competition not open to teams in the Championship. 

“My focus is day by day, getting ready for training and hopefully be involved on Saturday. This will help towards June and most importantly put on good displays in the two games to know we’re going in the right direction.” 

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chiedozie-ogbene-celebrates-scoring-a-goal-with-callum-robinson Ogbene celebrates his goal in Luxembourg. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Rotherham play a similar system to Ireland, but have. very different role for Ogbene. With Ireland he is a forward; at club level he plays right wing-back. 

“We try to make the game as fast as possible so the opposition cannot keep up”, he says of how his club play. “We’re quite a dynamic team and I’m expected to be back post to score and back post to defend. That’s what the manager wants from his players, you give your all, and if after 60 or 70 minutes you have to come off, you’ll come off.” 

Not that Kenny sees him as an alternative to Matt Doherty and Seamus Coleman at right wing-back in the international team. 

“He’s not a defender”, says Kenny. “We need pace in the forward areas. It’s important to have it in your front three and he has given us that outlet. We’re not playing with two 10s and a centre-forward looking across the same line. Whoever is on the left – say Jamie McGrath or Jason Knight – they drift in and overload the midfield. Chiedozie, all the time, he gives a threat in behind and we need that threat to create problems for the opposition. Defenders don’t like marking against pace. He’s shown a lot of intelligence in his movement, he’s linked very well with Matt Doherty down the right side. Two goals is a good return. He gets fouled a lot because he’s a direct runner.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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