Thursday 13 December 2018

O'Dowda suddenly on trend for both club and country

Callum O’Dowda: ‘I’m itching to play more regularly for Ireland.’ Photo: Sportsfile
Callum O’Dowda: ‘I’m itching to play more regularly for Ireland.’ Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

Callum O'Dowda emerged from the dressing room at the Stadium of Light last week looking a very happy young man. And he had every right. He then gave Birstol City the lead in their 2-1 win over Cardiff City at Ashton Gate yesterday as his side stayed third in the Championship standings. It has been quite a month.

Against Sunderland, he tortured Billy Jones to the extent that Jones was dropped by Simon Grayson for the manager's doomed final game in charge, a midweek draw with Bolton Wanderers. O'Dowda had Jones on toast as he grabbed two assists in the Robin's routine 2-0 win over the luckless Black Cats.

In his side's previous game, the Carabao Cup thrashing of Crystal Palace, O'Dowda had finally notched his first goal for the club since his move from Oxford United two years ago. Just days earlier, he made his first competitive appearance for the Republic of Ireland against Moldova and he was on the bench against Wales in the next game.

And now to Denmark. O'Dowda, who qualifies through his late grandfather, the Irish tenor Brendan O'Dowda, has become an in-form unknown quantity for Martin O'Neill, challenging Aiden McGeady for the nudge from the bench or even a start in Copenhagen.

O'Neill's assistant Roy Keane was at the Sunderland game to see O'Dowda's match-winning contribution and the torment he brought on Jones. But McGeady has easily been Sunderland's best player this season and remains their one bright spark. He showed moments of brilliance and frustration, but never gave up.

The added bonus for Keane on his return to his former club were the appearances of John O'Shea and Darron Gibson. Keane will have noted that at least O'Shea is playing again, albeit trying to control a shambolic defence, but Gibson is a shadow of the player he will have seen at Manchester United.

O'Dowda seemed genuinely shocked that Keane was there to watch him. "I didn't know he was here but I'm always aware that there are people from Ireland watching," he said. "I speak to the staff over there all the time and they tell me I am being constantly watched. That's good to hear."

The lightning-quick winger, who joined Oxford aged nine and made 87 senior appearances for the club, is a player O'Neill has watched and nurtured since he helped persuade O'Dowda to join the Irish squad two years ago; when he was still a League Two player.

His coach Steve Guppy, who has been so instrumental in James McClean's emergence as Ireland's driving force, has worked with O'Dowda extensively during Ireland training sessions and Bristol City are seeing the benefits.

He has had to be patient. He struggled for consistency last season and, although he has hardly missed a game, manager Lee Johnson used him as a substitute for the first half of this campaign but spoke highly of O'Dowda starting to "deliver the final product" for his strikers last week. He provided another assist in their impressive victory at Fulham on Tuesday which briefly took them top.

"I feel I've got a bit of momentum right now," added O'Dowda. "When I got my move to Bristol last season, initially I was just adjusting to the higher level. But working with the gaffer and the Ireland involvement has given me so much confidence every time I step out.

"I feel a different player this season. Lee Johnson has such belief in me, that gives me confidence. He wants me to take on full-backs, which is what every winger loves. I'm lucky because we have a big fella up front so that's a great outlet.

"I suppose you could call me an old-fashioned winger, getting at the full-back, but I have also been doing a lot of work with Steve Guppy, who was one of the great crossers of the ball. I also like to think I'm one of the quickest players around. I've never really timed myself but I've got pace. Chris Allen at Oxford taught me about how to make the most of it while Steve Guppy is all about shifting players and getting them on the back foot, so I have been spoiled with my teachers. I have had the best of both worlds.

"It's been a good month for me personally. Starting for Ireland was great, scoring my first goal is something I'll never forget.

"As far as Ireland is concerned, all we wanted to do was get into the play-offs. Now we've done that, it's all about beating Denmark. It's going to be tough but we're pleased the away gig is up first. Hopefully, we can do well there and then finish them off in Dublin.

"You saw the spirit Ireland have in the Euros last year and during our qualifiers. I'm just so lucky to be part of it. I'm itching to play more regularly for the Ireland team but I'm really happy where I am at the moment and the way my career is going."

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