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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 10 December, 2018

Obafemi has 'plenty to do' as O'Neill sounds note of caution over teenage striker

A senior debut for 18-year-old Michael Obafemi was the most positive aspect of Ireland’s trip to Aarhus.

Michael Obafemi applauds the Ireland fans after last night's draw against Denmark.
Michael Obafemi applauds the Ireland fans after last night's draw against Denmark.
Image: Simon Cooper

Paul Dollery reports from Denmark

MARTIN O’NEILL INSISTS that Michael Obafemi has a long way to go before establishing himself at international level.

Obafemi made his Republic of Ireland debut as an 80th-minute substitute in last night’s goalless draw away to Denmark.

In doing so, the 18-year-old striker became the first player born in this millennium to win a senior Ireland cap.

He also put an end to speculation over his international future. As well as Ireland, Obafemi was eligible to represent Nigeria and England, having been born to Nigerian parents in Dublin before being raised in London.

“He had made the commitment anyway that he wanted to play, and whether it was going to be tonight or some other evening, he’s got a lot to do,” O’Neill said after the game. “I think he realises that himself. We’ll see what the next couple of months bring too.”

Obafemi has made three substitute appearances for Southampton so far. His prospects of being afforded further opportunities by the Premier League club are likely to be increased by the current injury absence of compatriot Shane Long. 

O’Neill said: “I think Shane Long is out for a little while — I’m talking really about his club form — and he [Obafemi] is hoping to get some time. Obviously he has to fight for that and he has to earn that, but that would be nice if that’s the case.

“In terms of international football, it’s lovely for him to get on. I think his mum was here again tonight and that’s very, very pleasing. But I think he knows himself he has plenty to do.”

Seamus Coleman was reluctant to place the burden of expectation on Obafemi’s shoulders, but the Ireland captain is hopeful that the emergence of the youngster can help the national team to resolve their difficulties in the final third.

Michael Obafemi with his mother Bola and brother Affy after the game Michael Obafemi with his mother Bola and brother Affy at Ceres Park, Aarhus. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The stalemate in Aarhus marked the fourth consecutive game in which Ireland failed to score. Martin O’Neill’s side found the net just four times in total in their nine games in 2018.

“It’s great for Michael,” said Coleman. “He’s a really, really nice young lad. He’s been great around the camp. As a player, he’s good and strong. Hopefully he can go back to club level and kick on.

“You don’t want to put too much pressure on Michael but I suppose we are looking for a goalscorer. We can’t rely on Michael solely. We all have to take responsibility to get some goals. It’s great to have him.

“I don’t want to use the phrase ‘tie him down’ because it’s not a case of giving out caps maybe because people in the media are saying they could go elsewhere. You have to earn these caps and tonight Michael did that. He had a big smile on his face in the changing room, carrying his shirt around. We’re very proud of him.”

Martin O’Neill added: “I think he’s got talent. Tonight it was tough for him. Sometimes when you’re coming on, even though you’re very, very fresh, you might not be able to get up to the speed of the game. One [ball] was laid up to him and I think he tried to lay it off, when perhaps he could have held it up, but all of those things will come.

“I’m sure that at club level, that’s the sort of thing they will be teaching him.”

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Paul Dollery

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