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Chiedozie Ogbene is fouled during his senior Irish debut against Hungary.
Chiedozie Ogbene is fouled during his senior Irish debut against Hungary.
Image: PA

'It's a huge honour...I want to inspire everyone else to follow their dreams'

Chiedozie Ogbene last night became the first African-born player to play for Ireland.
Jun 9th 2021, 6:00 AM 6,153 3

CHIEDOZIE OGBENE HOPES to become a trailblazer having become the first African-born player to represent Ireland at senior level in last night’s draw against Hungary in Budapest. 

Ogbene made his debut as a late substitute in last night’s friendly, and couldn’t mask his pride when speaking to the press after the game. 

“It’s truly a blessing”, when asked about the history he made. “Most importantly, being from the League of Ireland and coming from that tough structure of football, just to showcase if you believe and never give up, what can happen.

“To be titled the first African-born, I’m really blessed and it’s a huge honour, something that I want to inspire everyone else to, to follow their dreams.” 

It was a particularly hostile stage. The game was played in front of 10,000 fans at the Ferenc Szusza Stadium in Budapest, and the Irish players were alone in taking a knee ahead of kick-off as the Hungarian players instead remained standing and pointed to the ‘Uefa: Respect’ logo on their sleeves. The Irish players’ more conspicuous gesture was roundly booed by supporters in the ground, which Stephen Kenny labelled “incomprehensible” and “damaging” to Hungary. 

“I was obviously disappointed because we all go through different stories and different histories in our lives”, said Ogbene. “This is something that black people have been fighting for many years. There is no place for discrimination and racism in any sport, any place. I was quite disappointed. It is what it is, we stayed strong and I’m so happy that we as a team took the knee to show solidarity between us all.

“I try not to worry about it. I just focus on ourselves. I feel like the group we have, it is diverse and everyone is together, we hope that Uefa will take stricter action and find a solution. It is a difficult task because it has been going on for many years, we won’t find a result or solution overnight. I am so happy we continue to show how important it is to accept everyone for who they are and just educate people and I am so proud of the team.

“I know early on in the game I was just hoping to come on and get the opportunity to score in front of their fans. Maybe it is the best thing that it didn’t happen because I might have let my emotions get the better of me with any sort of celebration I would have done. But yeah, trying to score really and help the team. You know a good performance against a team who are getting ready for the Euros, you can see the quality they have in the first half but you know just to get the opportunity on this big stage is a blessing.” 

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Ogbene’s next task at international level is to return to the squad for September’s triple header of World Cup qualifiers against Portugal, Azerbaijan and Serbia. 

“This is really a wake-up call, I have got the first taste of it and I am more hungry for more, I am more driven, so I will take pre-season, will be sharp and be as fit as I can, give all I can. These opportunities don’t come too easy so I will work twice as hard to be here, I really enjoyed it here, and that’s what my aim is, I am so driven, I don’t want to miss this opportunity and I will do everything I can to be an option for the manager.”

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Gavin Cooney

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