Tunde Owolabi was still beaming two days after he scored a hat-trick for St Patrick’s Athletic FC on Monday night. His phone was still pinging with messages from friends and family which kept refreshing a special night. Owolabi has been waiting for a chance like this.
The Dublin derby against Bohemians on Monday evening was just his third start for the club since he signed from Finn Harps last Christmas.
Owolabi hadn’t scored a goal in 87 days and then three came along at Richmond Park. The hat-trick? He says he probably would have been happy with one goal.
At training on Wednesday, Owolabi again thanked their regular penalty-taker Eoin Doyle for offering him the chance to take the penalty in the second half to complete the hat-trick.
“It’s been overwhelming these past couple of days. It still feels like a dream because obviously I have not been playing much. I have to be patient and sometimes it was frustrating,” Owolabi says.
“Obviously, as a football player you want to play, you want to help the team. I’m just grateful that I eventually got the opportunity and I delivered.
“I had not scored in over two months – I might come on in some games, I might not come on. So obviously, confidence-wise, I was not in the best frame of mind. Goals for a striker is bread and butter. You score and you feel like you can score again and before you know it, your instincts start taking over.”
Owolabi’s instincts and relentless chase to be a professional footballer means St Pat’s is the 12th club of his senior career. Owolabi (26) was born in Antwerp, Belgium and his Nigerian-born father, Ganiyu, was also a professional footballer. His first time becoming a full-time pro was when he signed for Scottish club Hamilton Academical in July 2020. But that only lasted six months before he left for Finn Harps in March 2021. That stint in Scotland still hurts.
“I still feel like I wasn’t given a fair opportunity to really show what I could do. But, listen, that’s football. Finn Harps came in and, yeah, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the start because I was disappointed with what went on (at Hamilton).
“I needed to kind of reset and find myself again because I lost the love for the game. It was a hard period for me. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t probably training as I should have at Finn Harps at the start and I wasn’t playing as well. I think Ollie (Horgan) took me away to kind of just try and find myself again and eventually I did towards the end of the season.”
Last weekend Owolabi was disgusted to hear about the racist abuse aimed at his former Finn Harps team-mate, Ethan Boyle, during a game with Drogheda United.
Owolabi says he hasn’t suffered racist abuse since moving to Ireland but he remembers when he was with FC United of Manchester and someone showed him a WhatsApp conversation where he was called a racist slur after he announced his decision to leave the club.
“I felt disappointed – why would I get treated like that because I wanted to fulfil my dream as a professional footballer?”
He doesn’t know what the solutions are, especially when it comes to social media.
“To be honest, I don’t know anymore. I honestly don’t know what can be done. It has gotten quite bad. The question is: what can be done? I will never understand racism. I think it’s sad that things like this still happen,” Owolabi says.
“When we bleed, we bleed red, we’re all the same. So for someone to be targeted for his skin colour, for example, it’s sad and I don’t understand why it keeps happening.
“I think you have to be proud of who you are, you have to be proud of being black, African – or wherever you’re from. You never know what someone is going through as well in life. We need to be careful of the things we say or do because that could actually push that person over the edge, for example.”
Owolabi is hoping for back-to-back starts for the first time with St Pat’s in tonight’s game away to Dundalk.
He’s on a one-season contract and just wants to keep proving himself to the club and the fans. Now that he’s got a taste of it, he wants that Monday night feeling again.