Sunday 18 March 2018

Ireland winger Callum O'Dowda reflects on "crazy" 12 months

Callum O'Dowda has had a remarkable rise in the last year
Callum O'Dowda has had a remarkable rise in the last year

Callum O'Dowda will head for Austria hoping a "crazy" year still has more in store for him as he makes his way on the international stage.

Last November, the 21-year-old Republic of Ireland winger was plying his trade in League Two with home-town club Oxford, but this weekend he could be playing some part in a World Cup qualifier in Vienna.

O'Dowda's last 12 months have included promotion to League One, a call-up to the senior international squad, a big-money summer move to Sky Bet Championship Bristol City and a competitive debut for his country under impressed manager Martin O'Neill.

He said: "If I'm honest, it has been a bit crazy. Obviously I set out to get promotion with my home-town club Oxford, achieved that - which was big for me - and then you've got the surprise inclusion in the Ireland squad.

"I had a previous conversation after the Italy game with the Under-21s with the manager, who said that he was going to keep on watching me at Oxford and he said, 'I'll try and bring you in in the future' and then just around the corner, I was included.

"And then after the Euros, the move to Bristol City came about."

O'Dowda made his senior Ireland bow as a substitute in a 2-1 friendly defeat by Belarus in Cork in the final warm-up game before the Euro 2016 finals, and such was the quality of his contribution, he was asked to stay on for the remainder of the pre-tournament training camp.

He made a further cameo appearance in the 4-0 friendly win over Oman in August and was handed a competitive debut, again as a replacement, in the 3-1 qualifier victory in Moldova last month.

His fledgling international career to date saw him witness at close hand Robbie Keane's swansong for his country after 146 caps and 68 goals, and the brief time the pair had together proved invaluable.

Asked to whom he had looked up during his formative years as a player, O'Dowda said: "Probably the big one is Robbie Keane.

"He has always been a legend to this nation and I've had the privilege of training with him and being around him. I've had a few conversations and a few words of advice, so it's been a real privilege.

"In training, he was always helping me out saying what he thinks, his opinion of what I should be doing.

"But to be honest they all have, especially Seamus Coleman. After training, I'll be doing some 1v1s with him and he'll be saying to me what he finds is hard to defend when attackers go up against him and what they do, so I try and do what can hurt them."

A naturally confident player, O'Dowda has blossomed in the Championship, where he has had to work on the defensive side of his game, something he admits even the best attacking players in the world sometimes find difficult.

He said: "You find a lot of the top strikers, the top wingers, they can't really do the other side of the game.

"Even like [Cristiano] Ronaldo, some big games [for Manchester United] he'd be playing up front. Fergie [United boss Sir Alex Ferguson] would play him up front because he couldn't really rely on him on the defensive work.

"But I'm always trying to improve my game."

Press Association

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