Thursday 19 October 2017

O'Brien thrilled by Ireland recognition

Aiden O'Brien stretches during Republic of Ireland squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Aiden O'Brien stretches during Republic of Ireland squad training at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There was never any doubt in Aiden O'Brien's mind that his international ambitions lay with Ireland.

As a teenager at Millwall, the 23-year-old Londoner's conviction was tested when England made enquiries.

They actually approached O'Brien's father, Dave, who hails from a completely English family. The Irish connection is on his mother Sandra's side. Her parents, Teresa and Patrick, had grown up in Ireland before emigrating.

The link with their native land remained strong and Dave knew his son was not for turning.

"My dad was like, there's no chance (Aiden would change) and I was saying, 'No, don't be silly, green all the way'.

"I said I'd made it this far (he had already represented Ireland at that point) and don't want it to end. I want to keep going and hopefully make a big name for myself with this country.

"All of family, every one of them, support Ireland when it's a World Cup. When I got approached by England, there was no decision."

O'Brien is therefore determined to make the most of the opportunity afforded to him this week although competition for places means he may be about planting a seed for the future.

He tends to function in a wide role for Millwall and while he has been listed next to fellow newcomers Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan, the other pair have a better track record in terms of goal poaching.

They were the duo that Roy Keane focused on yesterday. O'Brien, by contrast, does a lot of good things outside the box and his silky skills have commanded attention. It was the FAI's talent scout Mark O'Toole who got him on board early - and the dearth of alternatives meant he has generally functioned as a central attacker while wearing green.

"I'd give him huge love because he was the one who started me off," said O'Brien. "He came and watched me. He said it to Seán McCaffrey (then U-17 boss) , he said, 'You've got to take this boy, he's got an eye for goal', take him, take him'.

"I went out there, hit the ground running, scored lots of goals and that was it, I ended up being the number nine for the 17s, 19s and then the 21s."

Jeff Hendrick and Shane Duffy were team-mates along the way but Millwall's yo-yo status took him off the radar until they were promoted back to the Championship over the summer.

"I scored 15 in two years in League One from wide left and didn't get a sniff," he says. "You need to obviously be in a better league. I feel I deserve a chance to show what I can do on a big stage."

Irish Independent

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