No longer a "highly-rated prospect" ... Josh Kayode knows that now is the time he has to come good for Rotherham United

Rotherham United attacker Josh KayodeRotherham United attacker Josh Kayode
Rotherham United attacker Josh Kayode
The Republic of Ireland youth international talks to the Advertiser.

“HIGHLY-RATED prospect” ... it's a phrase that's followed him around for the last six years.

Story after story written about Josh Kayode since the striker started making waves in Rotherham United's academy has contained that description of the Republic of Ireland youth international.

But not anymore.

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He's turned 23; still of relatively tender years but too old to be considered one for the future.

What the Millers have now is a young player determined to fight back from a prolonged injury nightmare, that tested his body and will, and deliver on his potential.

“I'm not a kid any longer,” he says. “The ‘prospect’ tag is something I've been keen to shake off for quite a while. To be seen as a senior pro is something I've wanted.

“I just want to get back into full training and relish being on the pitch with the boys in training. Then hopefully I'll be part of the manager's plans and I'll give it my all.”

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The attacker rejoined the main group this week after 12 months lost to a torn hamstring just as he was pushing for a Rotherham first-team spot when serious knee and quad issues brought his season and loan at MK Dons to a premature end.

“It was very hard physically and mentally,” he says. “It took a lot to overcome things. Thankfully, I'm in a better place. I feel I'm at the end of the process now.

“I'm raring to go. The rehab has gone well. There have been a few bumps here and there but that's to be expected when you've been out for such a long time. You have to make the most of your career. I've had the dip and now things can only get better from here.”

The boy who came to South Yorkshire from Dublin at the age of 16 and cried himself to sleep because he was homesick has entered the final year of his contract.

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Having threatened a breakthrough at AESSEAL New York Stadium without quite achieving it, Kayode has the rest of pre-season and the opening stages of the Championship campaign to prove himself worthy of a place on the 25-man squad list the Millers have to submit to the EFL at the close of the transfer window.

The 2021/22 promotion push brought six League One starts, 15 substitute appearances and a crucial winning goal at Wimbledon but his best work was done the season before when his 34-match, eight-goal loan contribution to Carlisle United's cause made him one of the most talked-about forwards in League Two.

He acknowledges the make-or-break nature of the next few weeks and has been putting in the hours to transform himself from 6ft 3in beanpole to weight-trained brute.

“A lot of people were saying that I needed to get bigger - playing coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, my parents even,” he says. “I've absolutely smashed the gym. The way they want the strikers to play here, you've got to be big and strong. Hopefully the work I've put in comes to good effect.”

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Centre-half Richard Wood, who has just left for Doncaster Rovers after nearly a decade at New York, came up against the Nigerian-born frontman regularly in training and says he has all the physical attributes required to make a mark at Championship level.

Another admirer is Matt Taylor who took the Millers hot-seat in October when Kayode was sidelined at MK by knee trouble and has promised him a clean slate this summer.

The boss was in charge at Exeter City during the time the frontman was in his Carlisle pomp and later tried to sign him for the Grecians.

“It's good to hear about a fresh start,” the player says. “The manager knows of me from when I played against his old side and knows the kind of player I am. I'll come back, put my best foot forward and try to show him what I can do.

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“It's been a long, tough year and it's made me realise that you can't take stuff for granted because it can be taken away from you in a split second.”

If he impresses, there's a squad place within his grasp; if he doesn't, another loan exit or even a permanent move is the likely outcome.

Kayode wouldn't be short of lower-league options - former manager Paul Warne always used to say that the club received more enquiries about the Irishman than any other of their players - but he believes the Championship is a division in which he can prosper.

“I'm always confident in myself,” he says. “Whatever the gaffer wants me to do, I will always put 110 per cent into it. Now that I'm close to being fully fit I'm pretty sure I can do whatever is asked of me.”

He reflected on one positive outcome of his season of suffering and doubt.

“It makes you stronger,” said the former highly-rated prospect.

So, too, does lifting all those weights.