AIDEN O’BRIEN fulfilled a lifelong ambition when he made his league debut for Millwall – and has dedicated the achievement to his father.
O’Brien was a half-time substitute in Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat to Birmingham City and created a goal for Lee Gregory less than ten minutes after coming on.
That was the academy product’s first taste of Championship action and his energetic performance was one of few highlights on a disappointing night at The Den.
Despite the result, O’Brien was beaming with pride after the game and paid tribute to his biggest fan – and dad – David.
“He will be over the moon for me because he has been waiting for this moment as long as I have,” the youngster told the Southwark News.
“He’s brought me up to love football, he’s taught me the game and I’m so glad he was there in the stands to see my league debut.
“Hopefully there will be many more games for my dad to watch because my performance was definitely for him. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
O’Brien’s previous two appearances for the first team were in the league cup – the first of which came during Kenny Jackett’s time in charge, way back in 2011.
“I’m delighted to finally get a chance to play in the Championship,” O’Brien added.
“I’ve been waiting a long time. It’s been three years since I made my debut but that was my first league appearances and I felt at home when I came on.
“I’m glad that the gaffer gave me a chance but it’s disappointing that we lost the game because at 2-1 we thought we were going to grab another goal back. It wasn’t meant to be.
“Ever since Kenny gave me my first contract, all I’ve done is work hard with Scott Fitzgerald and the academy staff to try and break into the first team.
“It hasn’t quite happened for me over the years but now I’m slowly getting there. I’m working hard with the new staff and hopefully I’ll keep progressing.”
As he prepares to turn 21 on Saturday, O’Brien admits this is a make-or-break season in his Millwall career.
He added: “I’ve got this season and next season left on my deal but it’s my birthday on Saturday and I’ll be another year older.
“It sounds stupid but I’m getting on already – it’s getting to the point where I will either make it at Millwall or I won’t, so I need to show what I’m made of.”
The former Republic of Ireland youth international certainly made a positive first impression as he teed up Gregory for the Lions’ only goal of the night.
“The tempo was 100 times faster than any of the U21 games I’ve played,” O’Brien said.
“But I knew Mathias Ranegie was going to win the header and I managed to get a touch to the ball at the right moment.
“I could see Gregory running onto it so I put it over the defender’s head and it was a great finish.
“That was great experience for me and my first assist as a professional. The whole ground was buzzing at that point – I’ve never felt an atmosphere like that before – and I really enjoyed the reception I got.
“If we’d got another goal, that would have been the best feeling ever but it wasn’t to be. That’s life and that’s the Championship – now it’s up to us to bounce back.”
Despite making an immediate impact on his league debut, O’Brien accepts he may not feature when the Lions travel to title-challengers Derby County this weekend.
“I’ll make sure my preparation is right and that I do everything I can to be ready, but I’m not going to expect to play,” he said.
“The manager has a group of very talented players with a lot more experience than me but he knows I’m here and that I will give everything I can for him if I’m needed.”