Connect with us

Sport

Daniel Okwute has high hopes

Published

on

Soccer star Daniel Okwute talks to Adam Moynihan about his self-confidence, signing for Stockport, and his dream of one day representing his country

Daniel Okwute is special and he knows it. By joining Stockport County the 19-year-old Killarney native has managed to do what only a handful of Kerry players have done before him: sign a professional contract with a club in England’s Football League.

When you speak to Okwute, one characteristic shines brightly like the lamp atop a lighthouse. Supreme confidence. His new manager, Dave Challinor (he of Tranmere Rovers and the long throw-in), alluded to this trait in the official club statement that heralded Okwute’s arrival.

“He’s a highly rated young player from Ireland who came in and spent a week with us. He showed some real good things and great belief in himself, despite being thrown in at the deep end with our squad,” Challinor said.

That statement was also hedged with terms like “project” and “development plan” and “future”, terminology that would seem to imply that Okwute is not necessarily expected to make an immediate impact. But chatting to the former Kerry U19 player, it quickly became obvious that he is eager to make his mark sooner rather than later.

“I want to get into the first team as soon as I can and hopefully score a few goals,” Okwute says.

“I feel as though I’ve settled in well. The training is tough. It’s a huge step up and the standards are high, but I’m enjoying it. Paddy Madden, the captain, has kind of taken me under his wing. He’s always helping me and telling me what to do in training. Working with him has been really good.

“The manager’s standards are very high but the conversations I’ve had with him have been good. He believes in me, so hopefully I can deliver for him.

“At the minute I’m just loving it here.”

Moving away to a new country and starting a new job can be a stressful process. It would be understandable if Okwute was feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment, but that’s not how he’s looking at it.

“I don’t think it’s stressful. I knew I was going to come into this world, I knew I was going to play in England. There’s no fear. There’s no pressure.”

Rumours about Okwute’s future swirled over the course of the past season, a season during which he scored 19 goals in 19 games for the Kerry U19s. He and the people around him knew it was only a matter of time.

“I knew I was going to get signed, not necessarily by Stockport but there were different clubs [who were interested]. But it did come sooner than I expected. I’m very happy. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to play professionally.”

ESTATES

Okwute’s talents were evident from an early age and he honed his skills in the leafy suburbs of the tourism capital of Ireland.

“It was really nice growing up in Killarney,” he recalls. “It’s a lovely town and everyone knows everyone. My first memories of playing football were back in the estate in Rossdara (in the Loreto area of Killarney), and later Bruach na hAbhann (Derreen). Just playing on the street with my mates. As soon as I started playing I knew I had a special talent, a talent that not a lot of other kids had.”

Readers of the Killarney Advertiser might recognise the Okwute name from a previous article we ran about racism in sport. Daniel’s older brother, Brian, was one of the subjects of that piece and he revealed shocking details about the abuse he has received both as a player with the Killarney Legion and in his day-to-day life in Kerry.

Was it also difficult for the younger Okwute, growing up as a black boy in a predominantly white community?

“It was challenging at times but I don’t like letting things like that get into my head. It was tough but it was good at the same time.”

Soccer was his focus and the next step on his journey was finding his first club.

“I actually joined [organised] football really late. I was 11 when I started with Killarney Celtic and I enjoyed it straight away. I learned a lot from all the different coaches, like Conor McCarthy and others.

“Then I got called up to Kerry when I was U16, which I was very excited about. Everyone wants to play for their county.”

Earlier in this article I referred to the small band of Kerrymen who have signed for English clubs. One of those players is Billy Dennehy, a Tralee native who joined Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland in 2005. After enjoying a successful playing career with teams like Shamrock Rovers and Cork City in the League of Ireland, Dennehy has now returned to the Kingdom to coach the Kerry U19s. His star player up until very recently? Daniel Okwute.

Okwute cites Dennehy as a highly influential figure in his nascent career.

“Billy always said to me, ‘your work-rate comes first’.  He’s a coach who always told me the truth. When I played badly, he would tell me I played badly. He’s a great guy and he knows what he’s talking about. He has been a role model for me.”

Dennehy will be a key figure if, as expected, Kerry FC enter the senior League of Ireland next year. Okwute will miss out on the opportunity to be part of the project but he says he’ll be following the team with great interest.

“I’m going to be watching their games and supporting them. I have friends there who will hopefully be playing so it will be great to see them get their chance and excel.”

TARGETS

Okwute says he is 100% focussed on making his spell at Edgeley Park as fruitful as possible but he has no qualms about revealing his long-term targets. When asked where he sees himself in five years’ time, that brilliant confidence shines through once again.

“I see myself playing in the Prem to be honest. I know it’s going to be tough but I see myself there. I hope that’s where I am. I think it’s achievable.”

As the Irish-born son of a South African mother and a Nigerian father, Okwute has options when it comes to the prospect of international football. But he says the decision – if things go well at club level and he winds up needing to make one – will be straightforward.

“I was born and bred in Ireland. Ireland is all I know. Down the line that’s one thing I really want to achieve as well, to play for my country. I can look up to guys like Chiedozie Ogbene and Michael Obafemi, black lads who maybe have similar backgrounds to me and are playing for Ireland.

“That gives me motivation and hope that I can do the same. If they can do it, I can do it too.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

News

Handball continues to shine in Killarney

By Con Dennehy Handball in the Killarney region can look back at 2022 as a year of continued progress, the promotion of handball in East Kerry and the introduction of […]

Published

on

By Con Dennehy

Handball in the Killarney region can look back at 2022 as a year of continued progress, the promotion of handball in East Kerry and the introduction of the sport to a new generation.

It has been a phenomenal and successful year for the Spa Killarney Club. At the Annual General Meeting of the club this week, one of the highlights of the year singled out for mention was the hosting and promotion of a One Wall National Tournament which attracted players from all over Ireland to the Killarney venue in March.

There was joy for the home club at the tournament when Currow native and Spa Killarney Club member Aoife Walsh had an impressive victory in the highly competitive Ladies B championship.

There was also an international dimension for the club in 2022 when four players took part in the European One Wall Tournament in London. At this event Eoin O’Donoghue won gold in the Open Doubles B championship where he partnered with John Joe Quirke from Glenbeigh and Brendan O’Donoghue won a silver medal in the Over 40 Doubles final.

“As a new club we were delighted with the success we achieved in 2022. In January Aoife Walsh and Sinead Moriarty took home silverware in the highly competitive She’s Ace competition in Tyrone. This really was our springboard for success during the year and resulted in some of our players competing in the One Wall national finals in Roscommon in July. We are looking forward to an exciting 2023 and hopefully welcoming new members to the club,” said Eoin O’Donoghue, PRO of Spa Killarney Handball Club.

The club rounded off a memorable year in October when they hosted the Munster One Wall championships and the Kerry Handball Board AGM in November where club members Kieran O’Brien was elected president of Kerry Handball and Brendan O’Donoghue was appointed delegate to the Kerry GAA Board.

Officers Elected for 2023/2024: Brendan O’Donoghue (Chairman), Sinead Moriarty (Vice Chairperson), David Gillespie (Secretary), Eoin O’Donoghue (PRO) and James O’Brien (Treasurer).

Open Night

Spa Killarney Handball Club will host an Open Night at the Spa GAA Club on Monday night (February 6). This will be an opportunity for attendees to savour the thrill of handball, have a taster game and meet the club players. It commences at 7pm and all over 18s are welcome.

Continue Reading

News

Kerry base confirmed for Rás Mumhan

By Sean Moriarty Preliminary details of the Rás Mumhan have been announced by Cycling Munster. The four-day international cycle race will, once again, be based at the Riverisland Hotel in […]

Published

on

0249724_20180523-DSC3402.jpg

By Sean Moriarty

Preliminary details of the Rás Mumhan have been announced by Cycling Munster.

The four-day international cycle race will, once again, be based at the Riverisland Hotel in Castleisland and will run from Good Friday until Easter Monday.

The final route has not yet been revealed but it is expected to follow a similar path to the 2022 edition.

Last year, due to organisational difficulties, the Rás Mumhan committee asked local clubs to take charge of each day of the race.

Killarney Cycling Club hosted the Easter Saturday leg of the race, including managing the stage start in the town centre, the Category One mountain climb at Bealach Oisin Pass and the stage finish in Sneem.

“We are looking forward to seeing everyone at Easter and we wish all the riders the best of luck in their preparations for the event. Further details to follow as they are confirmed,” said Race Secretary Sinéad Moriarty.

Attachments

Continue Reading

Trending