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'It was always Ireland for me'

Teenage talent Obafemi awaits Mac's call and targets summer return from injury

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Michael Obafemi is pictured at the launch of Coca-Cola’s Official Premier League trophy tour in Dublin yesterday. Photo: INPHO

Michael Obafemi is pictured at the launch of Coca-Cola’s Official Premier League trophy tour in Dublin yesterday. Photo: INPHO

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Michael Obafemi is pictured at the launch of Coca-Cola’s Official Premier League trophy tour in Dublin yesterday. Photo: INPHO

Even though Mick McCarthy has managed to bring that winning feeling back to the Ireland team, the hunt for goals goes on.

Wins over Georgia and Gibraltar were secured, on a one-goal margin by a midfielder, and the Republic of Ireland senior side have now played six successive games without a goal from a striker, while it's 18 months since a recognised centre forward scored for Ireland in a competitive game.

So there's a lot of weight on the shoulders of the young men expected to fill the void, but one of the bright young hopes, Southampton forward Michael Obafemi, says the next generation of forwards like himself, U21 star Adam Idah (Norwich) and Aaron Connolly (Brighton) can carry the burden.

"I think there's obviously quality players in there, the names you mentioned, Troy Parrott as well. Yeah, the future is bright for Ireland," says Obafemi, who did his own bit to lower the age profile of Ireland's player in the Premier League when he made his top-flight debut for Southampton last season when he was just 17.

"I want to play at the Aviva in front of everyone, in front of the home crowd. But obviously when I get back fit, that's my first goal."

Still only 18, Obafemi's progress with club and country has been halted, as he pulled up with a serious hamstring injury in February, just after he played against Arsenal in what was his sixth Premier League appearance of the season.

It would be his final outing of the campaign and the Dublin-born, London-raised player was ruled out of the remainder of the campaign.

It will be at least five weeks before he's close to being fit, and there could be something of a bunfight for his services: Obafemi could well be asked to play for the Ireland senior or U21 sides in June while he's also eligible for the U19s, who play in the finals of the European Championships in July, in Armenia.

Block

Southampton may have something to say about that and could block any international duty for the player until next season.

"I'm not too sure, it's about how good my hamstring is at that time, whether they have confidence that I can be able to play in them games," says Obafemi, who hopes to speak to McCarthy in the coming weeks.

"I'm not going to play for the remainder of the season in club football, so I'd say international football is my next target."

Obafemi is a senior international already, given his debut last year in Denmark, in Martin O'Neill's final game. Before he was given that senior cap there was something of a debate over his international future, with reports from Nigeria claiming the player's family wanted him to play for the African nation, while there was also a link with England.

But even though the time he spent in Ireland was short, the family moving to London just weeks after he was born in Dublin, he says it was always the green jersey (and the Irish one, not Nigeria) for him and that he laughed at the "crap" of reports from Nigeria about a switch.

"The media made it a bigger issue than it was. I always knew that I would play for Ireland. I didn't really pay attention to Declan's (Rice) situation. I knew myself that I would play for Ireland. It was the only one out of the three," he says. "I played all the way, from U17s upwards. I didn't see the need to change. This is where I was born and where I should stay.

"From what I know, I know that I was born in Dublin, my mum was visiting her sisters, I think I moved back to London a couple of weeks later, where I grew up. I didn't stay too long but when I come here I still feel like I am home," he added.