IT’S NO WONDER that Chiedozie Ogbene is seen as one of the brightest young talents at Cork City right now.
The teenager, only in his second year with the Leesiders, played his part in the club’s biggest achievements of 2016.
As a regular in the Stephen Bermingham’s U19s, he won the Enda McGuill Cup and helped Cork become the first Irish club to play in the Uefa Youth League, where they claimed a memorable victory at home to HJK Helsinki before losing out to Italian giants AS Roma over two legs.
The senior side may have been pipped to the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title by Dundalk yet again, but got the better of their rivals in the FAI Cup final.
Ogbene was introduced from the bench during the second half at the Aviva Stadium and brought fresh legs to Cork’s attack before Sean Maguire eventually grabbed the winning goal late in injury-time.
“You go into the start of the season putting in your best effort with the hope of winning silverware,” the 19-year-old winger told The42.
“But I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did this year — winning the FAI Cup with the first team and the national cup with the U19s.
“That’s incredible and you don’t imagine these things. It pays off when you put in the hard work. You don’t know how and when, but it does.”
Born in Nigeria, Chiedozie moved to Ireland with his parents in 2005 and took a shine to sports as part of PE at Bunscoil Chríost Rí in Cork.
He took up Gaelic football and joined Nemo Rangers as well as lining out at schoolboy level for the neigbouring soccer club Tramore Athletic.
But that Tramore team would fold due to a shortage of numbers and spells with College Corinthians, Kilreen Celtic and Everton followed before Bermingham and assistant coach Declan Coleman saw enough potential to bring him to Cork City in August 2015.
That very month, he put in a man-of-the-match performance for Nemo in the Cork U21 football championship final at Páirc Ui Rinn — scoring 1-2 to earn them a draw with Valley Rovers.
However, that would signal the end of his budding GAA career and Ogbene didn’t appear in the replay after opting to focus fully on City.
“I had to pick between soccer and GAA,” he explains, “but I’ve always wanted to be a professional soccer player and this is the dream. It’s just unfortunate as a lot of people thought I was good at Gaelic football.
“I did like it but I had to choose. You miss it sometimes but a lot of things have been happening that I’ve been dreaming of so it’s all been positive for me.
“It was tough because you play GAA most of your life and you’re leaving friends you grew up with. I always wanted to be a soccer player. People might not have seen it because I played both but those at home and all my close friends knew.
At the end of the day, I always knew what I wanted to pick.”
A pacy, powerful player who says he bases his game on Cristiano Ronaldo’s, Ogbene admits possessing extremely raw attributes. But with the help of the coaching staff at Cork, he has been putting in the hard graft to develop those talents.
“I was coming in from an amateur youth league, so Stephen Bermingham (U19 manager), Declan Coleman (U19 assistant), Andy Goff (U19 fitness & strengthening) and Eoin Murphy (U19 goalkeeping coach) have put a lot of effort into me as well as John Caulfield (first team manager) and John Cotter (first team assistant) and all the staff in the first team,” he says.
“They have worked really hard with me in the gym and on the training ground. We’ve got a great set-up but it comes down to the players and their attitude towards the game as well.
“They have have transformed my game. I feel fitter than last year and more confident on the ball since I joined the club.”
He made his first team debut against Bohemians at the end of the 2015 campaign, but it was last season that Ogbene really broke into the senior set-up with three goals and a dozen appearances during the latter stages of the title race.
Eager to build on those promising displays, Ogbene is already hungry to get started with pre-season in the New Year.
At the time of writing, he had yet to sit down with the club to agree a new deal for 2017 but the sports injury and therapy student in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa has ambitions to earn a full-time contract.
Next year, the plan is to establish himself in the League of Ireland with Cork and help them obtain more silverware. Looking further down the line, he has his sights set on playing at the top and earning international recognition.
And as he’s eligible to play for both Nigeria and Ireland, Ogbene admits he may one day have a tough choice on his hands.
An opportunity hasn’t come my way yet but when it does I have a difficult decision to make.
“Hopefully it will come but I need to keep my head down and my feet on the floor.”
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