Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe pictured playing for Derry. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

'He's still my mentor to this day... If I need advice, he's always there to help me'

Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe of Derry City on the influence of Don Ubah on his career.

NOT MANY IRISH football fans would have been familiar with the name Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe prior to the start of this season.

While the 25-year-old made his senior debut in English football as far back as 2013, the majority of clubs he has lined out for, including Carlton Town, Hayes & Yeading United and Barkingside, have been non-league outfits.

Before going on loan to Derry City, Ogedi-Uzokwe had his first stint in the Football League with Colchester United.

The forward has enjoyed a decent start to life in the League of Ireland, with his goal in a recent 3-1 win over St Patrick’s Athletic helping the Candystripes climb to second in the league, though they have since fallen back to fourth.

Ogedi-Uzokwe likes how most Premier Division teams “always try to play football the right way,” which is in contrast with certain other places he’s been.

“Some clubs I’ve played for, we’ve been told to just clip it to the channels or play a certain type of football that I might not like,” he explains. 

At the beginning of the season, Ogedi-Uzokwe signed a six-month deal with Derry. The player’s contract at parent club Colchester expires this summer and while “nothing’s been discussed yet,” he “wouldn’t mind staying on” at the Irish club if a long-term deal is offered.  

With a number of new faces, including Patrick McClean, Peter Cherrie and Barry McNamee, signing with the Brandywell outfit in the pre-season, Ogedi-Uzokwe believes the club will get “better and better” as the campaign progresses and players form a better understanding with one another.

The people of Derry, he adds, have been “very welcoming” since Ogedi-Uzokwe’s move to the club was confirmed last February. 

“It’s very different from a club in London  or even Colchester. There are a lot of different teams in London, so people might support Tottenham, Arsenal or Chelsea and won’t know so much about the smaller clubs. But [it's different] with Derry being the biggest club in the area. It’s a great privilege playing for them.”

He has settled in to his new surroundings and is currently sharing a house with fellow players Eoin Toal and Gianni Seraf.

As he adjusts to his latest destination in a career that has already encompassed 12 other clubs at senior level, Ogedi-Uzokwe recalls a period where it looked like he might never become a footballer.

“Growing up, I wanted to be a footballer. There was a time where I wouldn’t say I gave up on my dream, but other things happened and I started concentrating more on my studies and stopped playing football for a bit.”

An encounter with Don Ubah, a football coach and scout, changed Ogedi-Uzokwe’s outlook. The man, who would become his mentor, persuaded the youngster not to give up. 

“I was introduced to him by my cousin, who was at Millwall at the time. [Don] got in contact and just encouraged me. He heard I was a good player and thought I could do something in the game.

From there, I went to a non-league club and signed, and from 19, I started playing first-team football and doing well. He would take me to a club and because he had so much faith in me, he would tell them all these good things about me. Even if I didn’t think I was good as he was saying, because of the way he was saying it, I would have to show them. It gave me confidence and things I didn’t know I was capable of, I’d be doing, because of how much faith he had in me.

“He used to have a lot of players and he used to coach and mentor them. A lot of players used to do very well with him.

“He’s still my mentor to this day. I still text and speak to him. If I need advice, he’s always there to help me.”

Before kickstarting his career in senior football with Enfield 1893, Ogedi-Uzokwe had spells at youth level with Millwall, Barnet and Leyton Orient, though none of these stints worked out for different reasons.

“I played with Millwall when I was about nine. I had to leave them, because I moved houses — it was a bit far for my mum to be taking me.

“I joined my local club. I played for them for a bit and went on trial for Leyton Orient at one point. I got into their development scheme, but I ended up leaving that, because I just wasn’t interested in the whole thing — the options and the whole vision. That was my experience with that. After that is when I stopped playing football.

“I went to an open trial at Barnet and I did really well. They got my details and were like: ‘Yeah, you’re going to come in and train with the 21s.’ I went in and it wasn’t the 21s, it was a development scheme again and I just thought: ‘What’s going on?’ I was confused.

“At that moment, I was a bit disillusioned with the way football was and how people say one thing, but then it’s another thing. I stopped playing for two years or a year and a half until I was 18, [so I could] finish my O levels.” 

Patrick McClean celebrates with Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe after he scored his sides third goal Derry's Patrick McClean celebrates a goal with Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Of the 13 clubs Ogedi-Uzokwe has played for, one in particular stands out — a season-and-a-half-long stint with Cypriot side Türk Ocağı Limasol

“It was good,” he says. “The weather was very good. And it was different as well. A lot of my team-mates couldn’t really speak English. The management as well, some of them couldn’t speak English. When we’d have the team talk and stuff, they’d be speaking Turkish, I wouldn’t know what was going. I had to learn by seeing, or sometimes I’d have a translator there, but in the heat of the moment, there’s no translator. You have to quickly adapt and know what to do. You have to analyse stuff, take it in and use that to know what to do in certain situations.

“At the start, it was a bit [lonely]. But I got used to it and the players got used to you as well. I would go out with them and I’d be teaching them English as well. After a while, their English got much better and we could speak back and forth. The players were very friendly as well. They’d randomly turn up at mine and be like: ‘Yeah, let’s go out for coffee.’

“Sometimes when you’re away from home, you do think you want to see your mum. I’ve got a lot of little brothers, so I want to see them as well. But they did fly over [to visit me].”

After returning back home to England, the Londoner had the best spell of his career so far with Maldon & Tiptree, scoring 34 goals in 34 games — form that convinced Colchester to acquire his services.

His spell at the League Two side failed to work out, however. After one goal in nine appearances last season having signed with the club in January, Ogedi-Uzokwe moved on loan to Bromley last summer, scoring six goals in 25 appearances for the National League team before making the switch to Derry.

“From Maldon, [Colchester] was a big step up,” he says. “I had to adjust and get used to the pace. I had to get used to the physicality. I probably wasn’t as fit as the other boys when I started. But I enjoyed it.”

With his long-term future up in the air, Ogedi-Uzokwe is determined to make the most of his Derry opportunity amid a career that has not been without setbacks.

Even if you fall, just see it as a lesson,” he adds. “Think to yourself: ‘Next time I’ll do better.’ If you fall five times, you’ve got to keep going and the sixth time, you’ll get it right — that’s how you have to think.

“You can’t let failing be a big setback. If you don’t get into a team, you can’t see that as: ‘I’m not good enough.’ You can see it as: ‘If that’s what he thinks of me, fair enough,’ or if you’ve done something wrong, just practice whatever you did that was wrong, so next time you do it perfectly. Keep going and you’ll always get there with hard work and persistence.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:

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