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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Joshua Kayode (left) has impressed for Ireland U21s while Chiedozie Ogbene (right) is starring for the senior side.
# Influence
'I spoke to him before the game' - One Lagos-born Irish youngster is aiming to follow in the footsteps of another
Joshua Kayode on being inspired by Chiedozie Ogbene.

CHIEDOZIE OGBENE has come a long way in a relatively short space of time.

After catching the eye with Cork City and Limerick in the League of Ireland, he earned a move across the water to England, briefly playing for Brentford before signing with current club Rotherham United.

Last June, he became the first Africa-born player to represent Ireland, when he lined out in the friendly with Hungary.

He scored his first goal for his country in the win over Azerbaijan last month and added to his tally in the defeat of Luxembourg last Sunday.

After he was integral to Rotherham’s promotion to the Championship, a serious knee injury meant he missed most of last season as the club were relegated back to League One.

Yet Ogbene has recovered from this setback impressively.

Scoring goals had been a major problem for the team at the start of the Stephen Kenny era, yet Ogbene’s introduction has helped turn Ireland into a more potent attacking force.

In addition, as well as being good news for Kenny’s team, his emergence is a boost for the Irish-Nigerian community.

Of the current senior squad, Adam Idah, Gavin Bazunu and Andrew Omobamidele also have Nigerian links, as the squad begins to reflect the diversity of Irish society.

One player looking to build on this success is Ireland U21 international Joshua ‘JJ’ Kayode.

There are no shortage of parallels with Ogbene in particular. Both were born in Lagos, Nigeria before moving to Ireland at a young age. Both play in League One with Rotherham. And both are exciting to watch, as they give opposition defenders plenty of problems with their pace and power in attack.

The pair also happen to be friendly off the pitch. 

“I spoke to him before the [Luxembourg] game,” says Kayode. “I spoke to him after the game. And I’m delighted for him. He’s delighted. He’s a great person, a great footballer, he’s a hard worker as well, we’re all happy for him.”

And what did they talk about?

“We just had a bit of banter to be fair before the game. And I just told him to play the way he usually plays, the rest will take care of itself. It has and he’s got the goal. We had a bit of a joke about it — obviously, he’s got more goals here than he has for the club. I’m so happy for him.”

Kayode is encouraged, not just by Ogbene’s progress, but by Stephen Kenny’s tendency in general to give young, inexperienced players a chance.

“I feel like the link between the 21s and the senior team is stronger than ever right now. It goes to show if you’re working hard and you’re playing well at your clubs, then there is a chance for you to get fast-tracked up to the senior team.”

A 2011 census estimated that there were 17,642 resident Nigerians in Ireland and Kayode adds that Ogbene is an inspiration for this community.

“It’s great for us and the younger boys as well to see this happening. They’ll see that there’s a chance. We’re just so proud of him. I’m looking at him thinking if he can do it, of course, I can do it. And the other boys looking at him as well, thinking the same thing.

“We’re all looking up to him and hopefully, we can follow in his footsteps.”

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He continues: “It helps we’re from similar backgrounds, it helps that we’re at the same club, so we’re quite tight, we’re good friends. He speaks to me a lot at the club, tells me to keep my head down and work hard and I’ve just been taking his information and advice on board and hopefully, it can help me.

“His pace is frightening. I don’t think there’s anyone who can deal with that. It’s part of his game, it’s probably one of the best parts of his game, and I knew he was going to be fine the moment he got called up.”

Kayode is three years younger than Ogbene and still has some way to go in his development. Unlike Ogbene, he is not yet a regular starter at Rotherham, who are currently third in League One, featuring in six of their 16 matches so far this season.

“This season, at the start I was playing but I haven’t played as much as I would have liked to. But I trust my coaches there and I’m just going to keep working hard. When the time comes and they call on me to start a game, I’ll be ready.”

Kayode could have played for Nigeria and is still technically eligible to do so, but he was never approached by the country of his birth and had no hesitation in opting to line out for Ireland.

“No, there wasn’t any approach. As soon as I started growing up and playing football here, I think it was a no-brainer, I was always going to play for Ireland.”

Kayode has already scored once in the campaign, netting last month in the victory over Luxembourg. He will be hoping to repeat that feat at Tallaght Stadium tonight, as Ireland face a must-win Euros qualifier against Sweden (kick-off: 7pm).

“I’m enjoying it,” he says. “It’s an honour to play for your country. So every time I come to camp, I’m just honoured to put on the green shirt, and just represent it with passion and pride.”

- Originally published at 7am

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