Chiedozie Ogbene: First Africa-born Republic of Ireland international has received 'amazing support'

Chiedozie Ogbene: Republic of Ireland's first African-born player speaks of family pride

When Chiedozie Ogbene was introduced as a substitute in the 89th minute of the Republic of Ireland's 0-0 friendly draw with Hungary on 8 June, it marked a significant milestone for both player and country.

The 24-year-old Rotherham winger became the first Africa-born player to be capped by the Republic at senior level.

"It was a special moment for me and my family," explained Ogbene, who was born in Lagos, Nigeria in May 1997.

"We had a different journey. My father got a job opportunity and brought his family across to settle in Ireland in 2005 and I grew up in Cork, learnt the culture and integrated with the system.

"Stephen [Kenny, Republic of Ireland manager] wanted me to declare for Ireland and I showed interest.

"There were a lot of complications with the registration and how I came into the country but to carry that title of being the first Africa-born player is very special.

"To see how proud I've made my family and the people of Cork, it's priceless. The support in Ireland is amazing."

Coleman 'spoke out for us by taking a knee'

Before kick-off in that goalless draw in Hungary, the Republic players who started the game took a knee as a symbolic gesture against racism in the sport.

Ogbene was one of three black players who represented Kenny's side in Budapest, with Adam Idah and Gavin Bazunu both starting a fixture played in front of over 7,000 spectators.

The Irish players were booed by Hungarian fans in response, and Ogbene was among those who called on European governing body Uefa to investigate and take action.

"Seamus Coleman, as the captain of the team, he was pushing for us to take the knee," explained Ogbene.

"I know how difficult it can be for people of a different background and race to speak out, and he made it easier for us by speaking out for us.

"I know how hard it is for those younger players it might affect but that shows the culture of togetherness we have in this nation and that's why I'm so proud to be here."

'My mum feels famous'

In the aftermath of winning his first cap, Ogbene reveals that his mother was the first person he spoke to, followed soon after by his two brothers.

"My mum phones me every game, every game I play, wants to know how I'm feeling and if I'm healthy. She was in tears, I could hear the emotion in her voice," he said.

"Parents take pride when their children do well and where we come from in Cork a lot of people notice my mum and ask about her so she feels famous. I can see how happy it makes her.

"She always said she dreamed of me helping her to be recognised.

"I then rang my two brothers, I have two sisters too, and we all did a Zoom call. I rang my dad last, he's the father figure and always happy to be last."

Chiedozie Ogbene
Ogbene played Gaelic football for Nemo Rangers before focusing on his football career

Football or GAA?

Brought up playing sport at school in Cork, the teenage Ogbene was faced with a choice about which path to pursue, with Gaelic football and association football competing for his time and affections.

He joined League of Ireland side Cork City in 2015 and helped his adopted hometown club win the FAI Cup a year later.

At the same time, he was turning out for his local GAA club, Nemo Rangers.

"I had to make a big sacrifice at 17, to step away from GAA, which was a big sacrifice in my career," he said.

"Ever since I'd been in Cork I'd really enjoyed it and my school still keep in contact with me, some kids telling me how I've inspired their dream. For people to tell me how I inspire other kids, I take pride and joy in that.

"I had a lot of heated conversations, people didn't think I was going to make it. I was still at Cork City.

"I had a big match coming up, a county final [with Nemo], and Cork had to play UCD away, so I had to make a decision.

"I'm quite an emotional person and it was really difficult to ring the GAA to tell Nemo Rangers that I was going to try and follow the football route.

"It wasn't an easy decision. I was so young, but I still have the support of Nemo Rangers and all the GAA people."

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