Sunday 22 September 2019

Michael Obafemi seals night to remember with kiss from mum

Michael Obafemi embracing his mother Bola after the final whistle. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael Obafemi embracing his mother Bola after the final whistle. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

It was a smile that illuminated an otherwise joyless, dark night; an embrace that warmed the chill night air.

At just 18, Michael Obafemi had made a 10-minute cameo that may not have changed the tenor of a listless affair but it has changed his football life forever.

And as he rushed across the running track encircling the Ceres Stadium, he hugged his mother Bola.

The much-touted commitment to the Irish cause - which had caused so much unnecessary confusion during the week - had been sealed with a kiss.

"I don't think it was a massive decision because I played for Ireland at U-19s, and I've not played for anyone else," he said, bouncing on the balls of his feet in a converted basketball hall.

A diamond stud in his ear sparkled as brightly as his engaging smile, as he added: "It's an amazing feeling to represent my country."

The last teenager to debut for Ireland has not enjoyed a serene passage in the international arena.

Declan Rice may never feature for Ireland again, which made the baffling communication problems this week concerning Obafemi's declaration all the more delicate, it seemed. Not to him.

"I don't think it was off-putting. I was focusing on working hard in training and proving why I should be in the team and stuff.

"I wouldn't say I was nervous - I'd say I was more excited. It was a really proud feeling to play in front of my mum. She just embraced me and said 'well done', and that she was proud of me."

Obafemi left Dublin when he was just a one-year-old and still has relatives in the old town.

Last night, a symbol of a new Ireland became the first international born since 2000 to earn a senior cap. A 21st-century boy.

As is traditional, the new recruit had to deliver a song. His choice betrayed his impish youth; 'Country Roads', a song so old that Martin O'Neill had just made his international debut when it was released in 1971.

"It was a modern version of it. I think I passed the audition. I'm confident, you know. I think some of the lads would say that.

"I'm chuffed by that. Hopefully, I can show what I can do for the country. I'm thankful for Martin putting me in so hopefully I will give it back to him by scoring goals for my country."

His first green jersey is draped across his shoulders, Obafemi was asked if he might be tempted to swap it, or give it away to someone else.

"Nah, I think it's going to stay with me, this one," he said.

The way he sees it, he wants to be wearing it for quite a while yet.

Kevin Long praised the new recruit: "He's quick and strong for a lad of his age. If he keeps his head down, he can go a long way."

Irish Independent

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