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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019

'He likes to run with the ball, he's a powerful lad for his age'

Richard Keogh says 18-year-old Southampton striker Michael Obafemi has settled in well to the Ireland squad.

Michael Obafemi pictured during Ireland training this week.
Michael Obafemi pictured during Ireland training this week.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

- Paul Fennessy reports from Abbotstown

RICHARD KEOGH SAYS 18-year-old Southampton striker Michael Obafemi is settling in well to the Irish camp.

The teenager has featured twice off the bench for the Saints in the Premier League since the beginning of the month, appearing in the 6-1 defeat to Man City and the 1-1 draw against Watford.

Last season, he became Southampton’s second youngest senior player ever, after Luke Shaw, when he came on as a substitute in the 81st minute amid a 1-1 draw against Tottenham.

The Dublin-born attacker, who is also eligible to represent England and Nigeria, has similarly impressed at underage level, with his pace and eye for a goal ensuring a swift rise through the ranks at the Premier League club.

Ireland boss Martin O’Neill has already reserved kind words for Obafemi, while Keogh has also been impressed by what he has seen so far.

I’ve not come up against him too much [in training],” the Derby defender said. “Obviously I’ve heard a little bit about him. He’s a young player with a lot of potential and he’s fitted in well. He’s a big threat, he likes to run with the ball, he’s a powerful lad for his age.

“It’s credit to him that he’s moving in the right direction and the manager is seeing something that he feels he can add to our squad.

“I think it’s just good for young players to be in and around the squad anyway. Regardless of whether they play or not, just being around the international set-up bodes well for them for the future and it’s not such a daunting experience when you come in. 

“You get to know the lads a lot more and we get to know them and if we can help them fulfil their potential, then it’s only going to be good for Ireland.” 

As one of the older and more experienced players, Keogh says he feels an extra degree of responsibility to make sure Obafemi is comfortable and well looked after within the set-up.

“I think it’s probably naturally in my character to be like that, to talk to people quite a lot and try to help them in anyway. I think, like anything really, you want to make people feel as comfortable as possible, because if they feel like that, they can give their best on the pitch.

“You don’t want to be coming into a group, where you’re [thinking]: ‘I’m not sure about certain things.’ But this group of people are a great group of lads. When we meet up, it’s like a club atmosphere.”

Fellow strikers Callum Robinson and Aiden O’Brien have been similarly impressed with the young man.

We’ve just finished training now and he’s been bright,” the Millwall star says. “He’s getting on the ball, he’s not shying away. He’s showing everyone that he’s here for business. He’s been really good.”

“He looks confident for a young boy and he’s getting at players, which is good,” Robinson adds. “Hopefully, he can continue that for many years.”

Obafemi’s eligibility has been under scrutiny in recent days, with Nigeria and England also teams he could still play for. While the youngster has been included in the squad for the games against Northern Ireland and Denmark — and an appearance in the latter competitive match would put to bed any doubts about his long-term national allegiance — O’Neill has said he would speak to the player and his family before any decision is made and insisted he would not pressure the promising striker into featuring.

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Paul Fennessy

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