Kwara United started the season on a high but the steam could not be sustained even with the gutsy contributions of youngsters such as Segun Alebiosu, Evans Iyoro, Obadaki Halilu, Peter Gabriel, Adeshina and Ismail (Gata brothers), Jimoh Hammed, Dare Ojo and the others as the club ended the first stanza on an average performance.
While the entire playing staff had their fair share of heroics to ensure the Ilorin side maintain their position in the elite league as at mid-season, no one was braver than midfielder Dare Ojo in their resurgence.
Without discounting the contributions of his teammates who had similar work rates with him during the period under review, Ojo’s true strength is his leadership. In addition, Ojo is blessed with marking and shooting abilities and doggedness in team play which perhaps explains why his teammates nicknamed him ‘Energy.’
Ojo is not just a resourceful player; the defensive midfielder has played more games than any player for the Harmony Warriors this season, scoring two fantastic goals and providing brilliant assists for other strikers.
His opening goal in a 3-1 defeat of Rangers International of Enugu on Match Day 11 in Ilorin on June 14 is in line for one of the best goals of the season. The rocket shot from about 35 yards caught Rangers goalkeeper Itodo Akor off-guard.
Looking back to how Kwara United fared during the first round, coach Tunde Sanni gave thumb ups to the entire squad for playing out their hearts and ensure the team bounced back from the threat of relegation at some point. Sanni however would also single out Ojo for special praise for a job well done in the team’s midfield.
Olayinka Owolewa, the Media Officer of Kwara United witnessed United’s turbulent first round experience and told npfl.ng the big role played by Ojo before the league went on break: “I believe our boys deserve special praises for their perseverance. Their effort brought us out of the relegation zone at end of the first round.
“Having said that, I must say Dare Ojo has been a strong pillar behind Kwara United’s performance this season. He is a quiet and an easy going young man who has done so much to achieve his leadership status in the team, and I can only wish he maintains such resourceful qualities as a player.”
Ojo, who has captained the team in three games this season, says he loves his current role and can only get better.
“My performance is an encouragement to the new players, especially the young ones,” Ojo told npfl.ng. “I have also been working hard to unite everyone in the team because that’s the only winning formula we can use. I thank God for giving us a special grace as a team to be where we are at the end of the first stanza.”
“Things were a bit tough for us at some point, but we braved the odds and raised our game to ensure the club remains afloat. I’m particularly glad that my little contribution to the team made the difference, and more satisfying is the fact that I’m appreciated by everyone including our fans in Ilorin. This gives me real pleasure and motivation to do more. I believe we will do better in the second round.”
For Ojo, leadership is the culmination of years of hard work from an ambitious kid who struggled to convince siblings who thought he chose a wrong profession, to becoming one of the most popular and influential stars in the renewed professional league in Nigeria.
“I have had the love to play football right from my childhood and I made a wish that I will take it as a career which I will use to impact those coming behind me,” Ojo recalled.
“But after my secondary school, some family members, especially my sister wanted me to stop playing the game perhaps because they never knew I’m talented. I stood my ground that it is what I love to do. Luckily for me my mother encouraged me and everything is history now, I thank God for making me who I am today.”
Ojo’s next target is to score more goals for Kwara United and join hands with his teammates to keep ‘the good work going’ and ensure the club gets a continental ticket at the end of the season.
“My ambition is to play for the Super Eagles and move to Europe to improve my professional career. I know it’s not going to be easy but with hard work and God on my side, I shall realize these dreams,” Ojo concluded.
Kwara United won six matches and drew four to garner 22 points from 18 matches and are placed 15th on the log with a game in hand against Warri Wolves on 29 July. The team spent a greater part of the first round struggling at the lower rung of the table with eight games lost including defeats at home to Heartland of Owerri, Enyimba International of Aba and Sharks FC of Port Harcourt.
But, things changed positively for the club when newly elevated coach Sanni led the Harmony Boys to a shocking 2-1 away victory against FC Ifeanyiubah, before returning home to end the first round with a convincing 3-1 defeat of FC Giwa in Ilorin last Saturday.