Crumlin native, Roberto Lopes expressed his immense pride on making his debut for Cape Verde in their International friendly with Togo in Marseilles.
The Shamrock Rovers defender, whose father was born in the African country, played 90 minutes as the island nation ran out 2-1 winners.
‘Pico’ has been in exceptional form for the Hoops this season, and underlined his international credentials with a series of top-class performances in Europa League qualifying.
He headed home crucial goals in games against SK Brann and Apollon Limassol – fittingly getting on the end of crosses from Ireland call-up Jack Byrne – and helped them to next month’s FAI Cup final.
Still, he was somewhat taken aback when approached on LinkedIn by the Cape Verde coach, the Portuguese Rui Aguas, with a view to linking up with his father’s birthplace.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in that I’m an international footballer,” a beaming Lopes told Dublin Gazette.
“It’s incredible. After the first game it really hit me how proud I was to represent my family, and it really sunk in.
“Coming home now, everyone is congratulating me, and my mam and my dad are just buzzing over it. Just to be a part of that, bringing that little bit of joy to the family, it’s great and a bit surreal for me.”
He continued: “It came out of the blue, to be honest with you. I had a message on LinkedIn from the manager – I remember connecting with him a while back there.
“I got a message and I didn’t really read it, because it was in Portuguese – I thought it was a welcome message or spam, so I took no notice of it.
“He sent me another message in English then to see if I thought about it, so I translated it then and it was saying they were looking to get new players in the squad.
“He asked if I would be interested in declaring for Cape Verde. I said of course I would, because I’ve looked at it in the past and didn’t really get anywhere.
“Once he said that, I did what I needed to do, and it snowballed from there. Next I knew, they were onto the club and I was off to France with them.”
The 27-year-old is full-time at Rovers but recently qualified as a personal trainer – a profession he hopes to pursue further when he eventually hangs up his boots.
Lopes, a former pupil of Drimnagh Castle CBS, admits the language barrier was a bit of an issue at first as, while many of the Cape Verde players speak English, among themselves they speak Creole.
“All the staff speak English and there is plenty of players that speak English, but when everyone is together in a group, they speak Creole, a mixture of Portuguese and the native language.
“It was a bit daunting because I had to get used to that and pick up bits of the language as I went, but by the first game I was well-settled in, and able to enjoy myself and speak a bit of Creole my-self,” he said.