AIDEN O’Brien looked relaxed and comfortable in front of the press on international duty for the first time – as he explained how life in non-league football was the making of him.
O’Brien was in demand in Dublin along with uncapped Sean Maguire from Preston and Aston Villa’s Scott Hogan as the Irish prepare for their final two World Cup qualifiers against Moldova on Friday and Wales the following Monday.
O’Brien – who turns 24 today – recalled the early part of his career when a Republic of Ireland call-up was the furthest thing from his mind during loan spells at the likes of Aldershot, Hayes & Yeading and Staines.
“That was me learning my trade and getting out, getting some minutes in men’s football,” he said. “It was vital for me. It’s done me the world of good now playing week-in, week-out for Millwall.
“I can’t ask for much more at the moment. I’m away with my national team and I just want to show everyone what I can do. I’m proud to be here.”
O’Brien last represented Ireland at under-21 level, where he scored five times in 10 games.
The Islington-born attacker detailed the strong ties he has always felt to the country.
“I was 16, 17. I had the option of going for Ireland and my dad got the call. There was no decision to be made,” O’Brien insisted.
“I’ve come through the ranks — now I’m here, I want to stay here.
“My whole family for a tournament would always support the Irish rather than the English.
“My family from my mum’s side is born-and-bred Irish. I’ve always dreamed of playing for Ireland.
“I’ve always been waiting for the call to get an international first cap for the senior squad. I never actually thought when I was a youngster that it was going to happen.
“I was just always like, ‘ah it might happen. I don’t know. It might happen’. But as I’ve gone through my career, I’ve had a sniff and a bit more and more and obviously I’m here now.”
O’Brien was named as one of the forwards in the squad by Martin O’Neill, but he explained he is comfortable across a number of attacking positions.
“I can’t complain. I’ve played on the left for two-and-a-half years now, but I’ve scored goals and I’ve got my international call-up, so I’d be silly to say I’m not enjoying it and it’s not giving me success.
“I’m able to play most places in attack, so there’s no specific position.”
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