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'Stephen made it clear to just enjoy myself, be who I am'

Chiedozie Ogbene is hoping to win his first cap for Ireland during the international window.

Rotherham winger Chiedozie Ogbene.
Rotherham winger Chiedozie Ogbene.
Image: Zac Goodwin

CHIEDOZIE OGBENE SITS down to take part in his first media duties as a member of a senior Republic of Ireland squad, and two things quickly become evident.

Firsty, he is very happy and proud to be representing Ireland. Secondly, he is perhaps even prouder to be representing Cork. 

A new name on the squadlist, Ogbene is no stranger to many of his teammates.

“I said it to John Egan earlier, I feel like it’s not my first time being here,” he says. “The guys have been so friendly, even the guys I don’t know.”

Born in Nigeria, Ogbene moved to Cork at the age of seven and proved handy at GAA before soccer tightened its grip. He played for Cork City and Limerick before making the move across the water to England, and Brentford, in 2018. He lasted one year with the Bees before joining Rotherham, where he has impressed as a pacy, direct winger, referencing ’2008′ Cristiano Ronaldo as an early idol.

A long-term knee injury stalled his progress this year as Rotherham were relegated from the Championship, but Kenny hasn’t been shy to talk up the player’s potential.

Getting him involved has been a long process, with the first bit paperwork filled in in July of last year. Despite growing up in Cork, the FAI had to go through Ogbene’s school records to prove he had lived in the country for a minimum of three years before he turned 10 years old. They finally got the player cleared and Ogbene was included in an Ireland squad for the first time this week, flying out to Girona as one of five new faces in Kenny’s squad. 

I know most of these guys (in the squad) from County Cork, so you know, I said if I could get a Republic of Ireland opportunity I would definitely take it. Obviously being born in Nigeria, my father is hardcore Nigerian but he was grateful to be recognised. Republic of Ireland is a big nation with so many talented players and to be considered and to be called, honestly, I am honoured to be here.

“I got a lot of messages from my previous managers and a lot of people from Cork and Limerick. I’m so proud I am doing a lot of people proud in the nation, I just want to do that.”

It isn’t lost on him that while the Ireland squad is growing increasingly diverse, others have opted against representing the country when presented with opportunities elsewhere.

“I grew up in Cork, I see myself as an Irishman but obviously I am Nigerian by birth and I cannot forget that, but I’m so happy that it’s diverse. It’s clear that everyone’s together and that’s the main thing. We all have one goal and we’re trying to learn football and do well for the nation, for the Republic, and get the results we can. We’re all here for one goal and that’s the football.

“I played with Tramore Athletic, Corinthians and I had a good time at Everton in my local club in Cork, I was playing at Cork City and Limerick. I’m sure there are many players who grew up in Ireland and born somewhere else and are obviously having trouble with their decision (about who to play for).

chiedozie-ogbene-celebrates-scoring Ogbene playing for Limerick in 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I want to create a pathway for them to show that if you live there you get these opportunities and it’s a great opportunity to represent any nation, and to represent the Republic of Ireland is such a blessing really.”

So, is football’s gain GAA’s loss?

“I played GAA from the age of 10,” Ogbene continues.

“I left GAA quite late, really, I think I was around 18 and I had to make a decision if I was going to take a career in soccer, or football as I call it, or play GAA and I played football because it was something I really wanted to play.

“A lot of people told me I was talented at GAA, I was a midfielder, and obviously my pace and my stamina I was able to get by a lot of defenders. They were very disappointed but I am sure Nemo (Rangers) are very happy for me with where I am now. I want to inspire any young player obviously to influence them and go with their hearts and make the decision they want to make.”

Now that he’s in, Ogbene will hope to make his mark. Ireland will continue their training camp in Girona this week ahead of the friendlies against Andorra (3 June) and Hungary (8 June) – two games the 24-year-old will target as genuine opportunities to get out on the pitch.

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“Stephen made it clear when I was coming to just enjoy myself, be who I am, get to know the guys and experience the occasion.

“I feel like I am doing well. It’s a great bunch of lads here. I know most of them from living in Cork, playing against them in the League of Ireland and the Championship. They’re very friendly and I can be who I am. This is a big opportunity and you can get all nervous wanting to impress but Stephen said to just be who you are.

“Obviously I’ve only been here two days, and you can tell the desire from the players. There are a lot of young players here, they want to learn football, they want to grow up and I can see what Stephen’s trying to create, he’s trying to create a culture.

“Obviously he is trying to get a winning mentality but the togetherness he’s trying to build, it’s very difficult when players are playing different type of football and style in their own team and then come to the international team and we all have to buy into one belief. But it’s clear the players want to learn.

“You can see the encouragement and belief he’s trying to give to the players.” 

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About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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