From pro soccer to intercounty: Trailblazing Ugochukwu enjoying life with Laois

Former pro soccer player the first Nigerian native to play for the O’Moore County

Collins Ugochukwu, the first Nigerian-born player to play for Laois senior footballersl, at the launch of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Collins Ugochukwu was only supposed to be coming home to Newbridge, Kildare for a short holiday last year.

He'd been living in the UK for five years, playing professional football, and was waiting to see if Crawley Town would offer him a fresh contract.

Then the pandemic struck, stalling the game of musical chairs his life had become and forcing the Nigerian native to stay where he stood. In Ireland.

That's still only half the story, however, of how he came to be playing for Billy Sheehan's Laois footballers earlier this year, the first Nigerian to represent the county.


“When we came back my partner was expecting a baby and I was living at home with the parents, so it was getting a bit too crowded,” explained Ugochukwu.

"We tried to get a place in Newbridge but it was just really expensive so we had to move further from Newbridge and we found a spot in Portarlington, in Laois. My partner's family are from the area and that's how I kind of got involved with Courtwood. "

A former soccer player with Bohemians, Ugochukwu's conditioning stood to him when he was thrown in at the deep end in a club game for Courtwood against Portlaoise with orders to mark county man Gareth Dillon. Ugochukwu had a stormer and new Laois manager Billy Sheehan took a punt on him over winter in the O'Byrne Cup against Wexford.

"The thing about the GAA for me is that I feel like there's no pressure," he said. "It's just going out and kicking a bit of football with the lads. I never expected to make anything out of Gaelic football, I just wanted to kick a bit of ball and to enjoy it.

Impress someone

“With soccer, it was always like I was trying to achieve something from a young age, it was always, ‘I have to do this to impress this lad’ or ‘I have to play well because people are here watching me, I have to go do this’.

“That would take a toll on you. Trying to impress someone every time sometimes takes the fun away from it. It was a career so you had to take it seriously all the time. I’m not saying I don’t take it seriously when I play Gaelic, I do take it seriously on the pitch, but afterwards I can let my hair down and say, ‘Ah, we lost today, we’ll go again next week’. With soccer, if we lost a game, it would be in my head all day.”

It wasn't the best of seasons for Ugochukwu to join Laois. They were relegated to Division Four of the Allianz League and lost to Wicklow in the Leinster championship, meaning they'll be in the draw for Round One of the Tailteann Cup. Ugochukwu won't play in that competition, initially at least, having left the panel for personal reasons though he hopes to return this year or next.

In the meantime, he wants them to push hard to win the inaugural title.

“Those who say, ‘Ah, it’s only the Tailteann Cup...’, it’s still a trophy, it’s always nice to achieve something, no matter what the trophy is,” he said.

* Collins Ugochukwu was speaking at the launch of SuperValu's #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign. Now in their 13th year of supporting the GAA All-Ireland SFC, SuperValu is calling on GAA communities across the country to do what they can to make their community more diverse and inclusive.