Chiedozie Ogbene will be forever grateful for the decision his father took which meant he grew up in Cork rather than Florida.
The Rotherham midfielder became the first African-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland at senior level when he came off the bench in a goalless friendly draw in Hungary in June.
However, as he prepares for Saturday evening’s World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan, the 24-year-old, who started life in Nigeria, has admitted things could have turned out very differently had his father Emmanuel accepted an offer of work on the east coast of the United States.
Asked if on a dark, wet night in Ireland, he had ever questioned that decision, Ogbene said with a smile: “I actually never thought about that like that, when you get older and you go through winter days and you’re thinking, ‘Dad, what made you come here?’.
“I guess it was the best decision that he made for his family and I’m reaping the rewards for being here. I really enjoy the culture and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why my father chose Ireland over Florida.
“He knew the Irish people that he had worked with and he really enjoyed it and he chose to be here. I don’t know exactly why, but it’s obviously a country that gives foreigners a lot of opportunities.”
Ogbene, who idolised Cristiano Ronaldo as a child growing up in Ireland, played both football and GAA – Gaelic sports – and had to make the difficult choice to concentrate on the former as a 17-year-old.
Even then, his career to date has not been without its trials – he left Cork City for Limerick in a bid for regular football and, having been given his big opportunity by Brentford in January 2018, made a similar decision to move to Rotherham in the August of the following year after a season on loan at Exeter.
Now firmly established with the Millers, the pacy winger is determined to fulfil all his early promise and his elevation to the international stage represents a new step forward, one which is a source of immense pride both personally and to his family – his mother Christina in particular.
She was the first of many people to call him after the Hungary game, and asked how the conversation had gone, he said: “My mum rings me every game I play. The first thing she says is, ‘how are you feeling? I hope you are healthy’. That’s what she worries about.
“She was very teary. I could tell by the emotion in her voice. My parents take pride when their kids do well.
“Where we come from in Cork, a lot of people notice her and they ask about her, so she feels famous. I can see how happy it makes her and she answers questions, so she feels very important.”
Ogbene is one of several men in the Ireland setup with Nigerian heritage – defender Andrew Omobamidele and striker Adam Idah are also in the current squad – and he is proud of the diversity within the group.
Stephen Kenny’s players were booed for taking the knee in Hungary and he was one of those who spoke out strongly afterwards, a move which was widely applauded back at home.
He said: “That’s what we have here, that’s the culture we have, the togetherness in this nation and that’s why I’m so proud to be here.”
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