Tuesday 20 March 2018

Callum O'Dowda's comments on James McClean sum up how much of a leader the Derryman is to this Ireland team

Callum O'Dowda, left, and James McClean
Callum O'Dowda, left, and James McClean
Callum O'Dowda of Republic of Ireland during a press conference at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When they were sitting together on the bench during last Sunday's game with Uruguay, Callum O'Dowda and James McClean got talking about who was the quicker of the pair.

They both backed themselves, of course, but O'Dowda is aware that McClean would probably win a public vote.

And while the Derry man is technically a rival for the Bristol City winger's favoured position, he is also an inspiration.

McClean has grown in stature over the past 12 months and his thrilling cameo against Uruguay to add another goal to his Irish haul illustrated his prowess.

The articulate O'Dowda is fully aware that the best he can hope for on Sunday is being sprung from the bench to make an impact against Austria; Martin O'Neill does have faith in him and gave him that chance in Moldova when the game was poised at 1-1.

That freed up McClean to move inside and score twice. The 22-year-old Oxford native - who qualifies for Ireland through his late grandfather Brendan, a famous singer - was watching and learning.

"I'm always thinking of James," he says. "He's the player I want to be. He's powerful. He thinks he is (the quicker of the two). I think I am. Who wins? I don't know. Everyone thinks he is, but you never know. He's got a few years on me.

"He's the type of player I want to be. If I can have a couple of more seasons in the Championship, and maybe push on, we'll see what happens."

Asked about McClean's strengths, he replies: "It's the key moments, how he just pops up. When James gets on the ball, it gives everyone a lift. That's I want to happen. I want people when I get on the ball to say 'okay let's see what Callum can do'.

Just get people up on their feet. You see it at club level. You think of how Thierry Henry was. When he gets the ball you know something is going to happen. That is what I want."

O'Neill was a big part of McClean's early career and he has been influential in O'Dowda's development too.

The product of the Oxford youth academy gets on well with the Ireland manager, who has promised to come and visit him in Bristol this summer for a chat about his progress; there are bigger things going on this week.

It was a performance for the Irish U-21 side in a game with Italy at the RSC in March 2016 that put O'Dowda (right) on the senior manager's radar.

The youngsters were at the airport the following day, waiting for a plane to second leg of a double header, when Noel King's phone rang.

"We were at the departure lounge going to Slovenia and Noel called me and said, 'Callum, the gaffer wants to speak to you'," he recalls.

"He (O'Neill) talked me through my game, saying how he was really happy with me, going through the finer details and stuff.

"That got me going and then he said how he'd look to bring me in (to squad) in the future. I didn't think too much about it but then I went on and scored in the following U-21 game and that brought me up a bit. It was just nice to hear that kind of stuff from someone that high up."

Two months later O'Dowda was drafted in to train with O'Neill's squad as they prepared for the Euros, and he even got on the pitch against Belarus in Turner's Cross.

At that juncture, he was a League Two player. A switch to Bristol City last summer has boosted his profile and cemented his place in the squad, although 7/10 is his review of a maiden season at that level, where he drifted in and out of favour.

Irish Independent

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