NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 24- On March 2 as he sat quietly in the AFC Leopards team bus on their way to Awendo to face Sony Sugar, forward Ezekiel Odera received the most devastating news; his ailing mother had passed on.
For anyone, that would be crushing news but for Odera, he took it bravely and when Ingwe played the sugar millers two days later, he hit the opening goal and played part in the second as AFC ran off 2-0 winners.
“It was shocking to receive the news on the way and I didn’t tell anyone, even my teammates. After the match, that’s when I told them. I told myself that if my mum would have been alive, her wish would have been for me to play,” Odera explained.
“I decided to continue playing since staying at home would have been harder emotionally because of all people coming to say sorry and all. I decided to soldier on for her,” the former KCB and Gor Mahia forward further stated.
His decision to keep playing proved to be a masterstroke as he went on to score three other goals in the month of March and provided two assists, form that has seen him awarded as the Sports Journalists Association of Kenya (SJAK) player of the month for March.
He is the first AFC Leopards player to win the award since its inception.
“I dedicate this award to her (mother), my teammates and the coaches who helped me to stay strong in that time. It was a difficult period for me and the daily words from the coaches and mates helped me through it,” Odera noted.
The 30-year old won the coveted gong ahead of Mathare United’s Cliff Nyakeya and Elvis Rupia of Nzoia Sugar who equally performed well in March, garnering eleven votes to Nyakeya’s seven while Rupia polled six.
Odera scored for Leopards in victories over Sony Sugar, Mathare United, Wazito and Kakamega Homeboyz.
His challengers for the gong, Nyakeya had three goals and an assist that helped keep Mathare United on the league summit. Rupia’s four goals were instrumental in lifting Nzoia from the relegation pit.
With the award, Odera who has hit the back of the net six times already hopes he can challenge for the golden boot. The closest he has come to the award was when he was runner up during his breakout season at KCB in 2010.
“I am now more experienced and I am playing in a bigger team so I believe I have a good chance. I have started the season well and I am only two goals behind the leader. I need to keep working hard and ultimately I want to give a shot at that golden boot,” the soft-spoken forward added.
Outgoing coach Dennis Kitambi was full of praise for the forward, saying the results came through because of his sheer hard work.
“His work ethic is good and this is a reward you get for that. At least it will give the team motivation moving forward and hopefully now we get back to winning ways,” said Kitambi who will hand over the mantle to Argentine Radolfo Zapata from May 1.