TEN years ago, Cork names were few and far between on squad lists from the Republic of Ireland.
Now, Leesiders are taking over the national team for a series of friendlies against Andorra and Hungary.
The players from Cork are Adam Idah, Caoimhin Kelleher, John Egan, and Chiedozie Ogbene, who received his first call up to the Irish team.
Conor Hourihane also joined the squad after getting the first flight to Spain following Saturday’s Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium.
Speaking from the team hotel in Girona last weekend, Stephen Kenny paid tribute to the Cork players in his Ireland squad and their long history together, which goes right back to the Cork Schoolboys League.
“There is a strong Cork contingent,” he explained.
“Kevin Long had an Achilles operation which ruled him out. At one stage we had Sean Maguire, who is from Kilkenny but is an adopted Cork-man.
"Right now we have Adam, Caoimhin, Chiedozie, John, and Conor. There is a very strong Cork influence on the team.
“I was actually joking with Adam Idah and Troy Parrott that they have the Suffolk/Norwich derby and Cork/Dublin derby between them.
"I asked them, how could they possibly like each other?
“But the Cork players all go back to the clubs that they came through, like Ringmahon Rangers and College Corinthians.
"Some of them also played for Cork City.”
Ogbene was one of those players, having played for Tramore Athletic, College Corinthians and Cork City.
It was in the City Academy where he was given a dream of one day playing for the Boys in Green.
“My manager at Cork City’s academy, Stephen Bermingham, always told me that if I keep my head down and I keep learning the game, I will get an opportunity,” Ogbene said.
“At that time, it looked quite farfetched, and it was quite hard to believe. I took everything day by day.
"I’m very shocked to get this opportunity.
“The first thing I did was look at who wasn’t called up! Which is probably something I shouldn’t have done.
“I got a lot of messages from my previous managers and a load of people from Cork and Limerick.
"I’m so proud to be doing people proud, and I want to do that now for the nation.”
The quick footed winger’s journey brought him across the English Channel to play for Brentford. He then went on loan to Exeter City before signing for Rotherham United in 2019.
Despite years of experience in professional football, Ogbene was nervous heading into the Ireland squad for the first-time.
It was in this moment of unease that the winger’s Cork-connections sprung up to help him settle in.
“To be here with John Egan, Adam Idah, and Caoimhin Kelleher really eased my nerves. It helped me gel with the team.
”I was talking to John Egan earlier and I said this doesn’t feel like my first time being here. The guys are so friendly!”
When it was Egan’s turn to speak, the Sheffield United defender immediately heaped praise on Ogbene for making the step up to international football.
“I know Chiedozie Ogbene a long time,” he said.
“He came to Brentford when I was there. He’s a really good lad and a great professional.
"He’s a really good athlete who always wants to improve.
“I’m delighted that he has the opportunity to come into the squad now. I have no doubt he will train very well and give a great account of himself.”
The defender originally played for Greenwood before going to England to play for a host of stop clubs such as Sunderland, Gillingham, and Sheffield United.
Egan got his first senior Irish cap in March 2017, when he started a friendly against Iceland.
In 2019 he captained the Boys in Green in a 3-1 win over Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium.
He has seen the renaissance of Cork football first hand and the defender wants to use the Leeside connections to improve the team’s chemistry and help young players integrate into the team.
“It’s great for chemistry to have the Cork lads,” he said.
“Like everyone gets on, but it’s great to have the banter with the Cork lads.
“Coming in can be a little daunting. I remember coming into my first squad and I was twenty four.
"Even though I knew a few of the lads, it was still quite daunting to meet all the new faces.
”All of the lads in the squad are great at helping the new players integrate. There’s so many young players in the squad, they all kind of know each other now anyways.
"It’s probably a little easier for them now.”