Tunde Owolabi was beaming for two more days after scoring a hat-trick for St Patrick’s Athletic FC on Monday night. Her phone was still ringing with messages from friends and family that refreshed a special night. Owolabi was waiting for a chance like this.
he Dublin derby against Bohemians on Monday night was only his third start for the club since signing from Finn Harps last Christmas.
Owolabi hadn’t scored a goal in 87 days, then three came at Richmond Park. The triple ? He says he probably would have been happy with just one goal.
In training on Wednesday, Owolabi once again thanked his regular penalty taker Eoin Doyle for giving him the chance to take the second-half penalty to complete the hat-trick.
“It’s been overwhelming the past few days. It still feels like a dream because obviously I haven’t played much. I have to be patient and sometimes it was frustrating,” Owolabi said.
“Obviously as a football player you want to play, you want to help the team. I’m just grateful that I finally got the opportunity and delivered.
“I hadn’t scored in over two months – I might come in some games, I might not come in. So obviously, confidence-wise, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. The goals for a striker are bread and butter.You score and feel like you can score again and before you know it your instincts start to take over.
Owolabi’s instinct and relentless pursuit to become a professional footballer means St Pat’s is the 12th club in his senior career. Owolabi (26) was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and his Nigerian-born father, Ganiyu, was also a professional footballer. His first time turning professional full-time was when he signed for Scottish club Hamilton Academical in July 2020. But that only lasted six months before leaving for Finn Harps in March 2021. This stay in Scotland always hurts.
“I always feel like I haven’t had the chance to really show what I can do. But, listen, this is football. Finn Harps came in and, yeah, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the start because I was disappointed with what happened (in Hamilton).
“I needed to reset and find myself because I had lost the love of the game. It was a tough time for me. I wasn’t eating well, I probably wasn’t training like I should have doing it to Finn Harps at the beginning and I wasn’t playing as well. I think Ollie (Horgan) took me to try to find myself and finally I did it towards the end of the season.
Last weekend, Owolabi was disgusted to learn of the racist abuse aimed at his former Finn Harps team-mate Ethan Boyle during a match with Drogheda United.
Owolabi says he hasn’t experienced racist abuse since arriving in Ireland, but he remembers when he was with Manchester FC United and someone showed him a WhatsApp conversation where he was called a racist insult after announcing his decision to leave the club.
“I felt let down – why would I have been treated like this because I wanted to fulfill my dream as a professional footballer?”
He doesn’t know what the solutions are, especially when it comes to social media.
“To be honest, I don’t know anymore. Honestly, I don’t know what can be done. It got pretty bad. The question is: what can we do? I will never understand racism. I think it’s sad that things like this are still happening,” says Owolabi.
“When we bleed, we bleed red, we’re all the same. When someone is targeted for their skin color, for example, it’s sad and I don’t understand why it continues.
“I think you have to be proud of who you are, you have to be proud of being black, African – or wherever you come from. You never know what someone goes through in life like that. We have to do pay attention to the things we say or do because it might actually push that person over the edge, for example.
Owolabi will be hoping for back-to-back starts for the first time with St Pat’s in tonight’s game against Dundalk.
He has a one-season deal and just wants to continue proving himself to the club and the fans. Now that he’s tasted it, he wants to rediscover that Monday night feeling.