Aiden O’Brien: ‘No decision, it was always Ireland for me’
The 23-year-old was born and raised in London’s inner city but always felt Irish
Aiden O’Brien during Ireland training ahead of the final two World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Wales. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Martin O’Neill’s squad selection for this weekend’s World Cup qualifiers has thrust three young attacking prospects into the international limelight.
But their selection suggests O’Neill is looking to the future, whether that includes a trip to Russia next summer or not.
And for Millwall forward O’Brien, his international call-up represents the fulfilment of a dream he has had since first appearing for Ireland Under-17s in 2009.
The 23-year-old was born and raised in Islington and is a product of Millwall’s youth academy – but a strong affinity with his mother’s Irish heritage meant he always favoured playing for Ireland over England.
He said: “It was always Ireland for me, there was no two ways about it. I was 16/17 and I had the option to play for England or Ireland when my dad got the call, and there was no decision to be made, it was always Ireland. I’ve come through the ranks and now I’m here I want to stay here.
“My whole family at a big tournament would always support the Irish rather than the English. My whole family from my mum’s side is born and bred Irish and I’m connected strongly to them, so that’s probably why.”
As with fellow new call-up Hogan, O’Brien’s journey to the Championship has seen him have a number of stints in the English lower leagues.
Indeed, before his breakthrough at the Den, O’Brien found himself loaned out to Staines Town, Hayes & Yeading United, Crawley, Aldershot and Torquay – spells he believes have helped him make it to the cusp of a first international appearance.
He said: “That was just me learning my trade, and getting out and getting some minutes in men’s football, it was vital for me and it’s done me the world of good.
“I’m now playing week in week out for Millwall and I can’t ask for much more at the moment. I’m away with my national team and once again, I want to show everyone what I can do.”
While O’Brien spent his formative years playing in a central role, he has often found himself selected on the left by Millwall boss Neil Harris – and has scored twice this season in wins over Leeds United and Ipswich.
But would be prefer to be deployed more centrally, or is he happy on the wing? “Well I can’t complain, obviously. I’ve been playing on the left for two and a half years now and scored a hatful of goals and I’ve got my international call-up so I’d be silly to say that I wasn’t enjoying it and it wasn’t giving me success. As a youngster I played centrally but I’d say I can play anywhere across the front three.”
Growing up in north London, O’Brien is an Arsenal supporter, so how was his first encounter with Patrick Vieira’s old sparring partner Roy Keane when the squad met up on Monday?
He said: “Obviously Roy is a big figure in this set-up and I’m just enjoying training and enjoying being here. I can’t wait to show them what I can do.”