A quick chat with Mipo Odubeko banishes any concerns about the young striker’s international allegiance.
He grew up idolising Robbie Keane, went to the same school as Ireland’s record goalscorer and spent much of his childhood hanging around with some of Keane’s family and friends.
He even used to pop into Keane’s family home, where he looked in awe at pictures that hung on the walls of the Boys in Green legend.
Odubeko (19), back in an Irish jersey for the first time in three years, is clear in his ambition – he wants to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Tallaght native.
Addressing the doubts that emerged during his time in international exile, when he was linked with both Nigeria or England, Odubeko said: “That’s outside noise.
“I block out the outside noise to focus on what I can do. I can score goals and that’s the main thing for me. When I’m called upon I can help the team, defensively and attacking wise.
“You can see the happiness on my face.”
Odubeko’s smile on Friday night was wide because his first international goal – scored in his hometown – came at a crucial time in Ireland’s 3-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ireland were 1-0 up – with Odubeko laying on a stylish assist to two-goal hero Will Smallbone – but were under the cosh when the West Ham prospect struck shortly after the hour.
It was fitting too that his goal was scored into the same end in which another of his idols, Shamrock Rovers legend Gary Twigg, netted the first ever goal in Tallaght Stadium just over 13 years ago.
“I’m delighted. I managed to get a goal and an assist. It feels like a good welcome home to Tallaght,” he said.
“I’m a local lad, I come from here, I grew up around here.
“I used to come to this stadium when I was younger – I used to watch Rovers in the Gary Twigg era – so obviously to get my first international goal in Tallaght is a beautiful feeling.”
Odubeko grew up in nearby Swiftbrook and had his own personal fan club at Friday’s game. They’ll be back again for tomorrow’s penultimate qualifier against Montenegro (5pm).
Asked about his Keane connections, he replied: “We went to the same primary school and I grew up with a few of his nephews.
“I’m just trying to follow in his footsteps. This is the first time in three years that I played in Tallaght.
“I played for the 17s here in March 2019 and I’m back now. I’m happy to be representing Ireland. It’s a great feeling.
“I went to the same primary school (as Keane), it’s in front of me. I can see what he has done. I grew up watching him. He is a big role model.
“He visited the school two or three times. I played for Crumlin as well and he came to visit, he opened up the Astro.
“My best mate growing up was Adam Bennett. He’s Robbie’s nephew and I would always be down at Adam’s house.
“I’d knock around to Robbie’s Mum’s house and the pictures of Robbie are on the wall. You see them all.
“It gives you a good feeling. You feel like you can do it. you feel like you can go on to do what he did, if not better.”
Was the Hammers youngster tempted to break out Keane’s famous cartwheel celebration when he scored on Friday night?
“No, no. That’s not me,” he replied.
The youngster displayed pace, power, vision and fine play both inside and outside the box on Friday night.
And afterwards he showcased his ambitions – to one day target Keane’s Ireland record of 68 senior international goals.
“Of course, of course it’s a target and there is no doubt in my mind that I can beat that once I start playing for the senior team,” he said.
“Obviously the main thing is to keep my feet on the ground, keep my head in the game and keep focused.
“I’m a striker. When chances come I feel I will score. It’s what I was born to do. The more chances that come the more goals I will get.”
Making an attempt on that record is a few steps away yet, as Odubeko acknowledges.
Discussing his short-term goals, he said: “Make sure that the 21s qualify for the Euros, score a couple of goals and then I go back to West Ham in the summer. I’m very focused on that.
“I’m not the same kid I was even 12 months ago. I’m more focused, fitter, I’m stronger. I’m a way better player.
“I’ve had difficult experiences over the past 12 months (on loan at Huddersfield and Doncaster) but they are the experiences that make you the person you are.
“I’m very happy with the experiences I’ve had and how they are going to contribute to me long term.
“There are always going to be doubters, there are always going to be knockers.
“Especially with all the controversy that comes with not being in the squad.
“But, you know, just block that out, and when I get on the pitch just run my bollox off and help the team.”
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