Tuesday 21 November 2017

In-form O'Dowda ready to answer Ireland call

Callum O’Dowda and James McClean going through their paces during Ireland squad training in Abbotstown Photo: Sportsfile
Callum O’Dowda and James McClean going through their paces during Ireland squad training in Abbotstown Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Call it a coincidence but since Callum O'Dowda made his first international start against Moldova last month, he has scored twice for Bristol City.

Prior to the 22-year-old's goal against Crystal Palace in the League Cup, O'Dowda had failed to find the net since he arrived at the club at the start of last season.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But when you consider that the winger followed that up with his first league goal for the club against Cardiff City last weekend, you begin to wonder if there is more to it.

O'Dowda was one of Ireland's brightest sparks in the win over Moldova, showing no fear in wanting to get on the ball and make things happen.

So has the trust that Martin O'Neill showed in him fed into his club form?

"I'd say that's fair," O'Dowda agrees.

"Since that game I've had a lot of praise from the management both for club and country. In the last few games I've made a real impact with goals and assists. And that's what I want to be doing.

"As soon as I got back to club level, I felt bigger, stronger. That's what I wanted to do, make a real impact in the Championship.

Confidence

"It's more about confidence in attack. You try more things: if you look at the Palace goal, the way it came to me, it was just instinct to take a touch and volley it in.

"That's what confidence does. You're not afraid to do stuff. The safe option is there but it's (about) taking a few risks and not caring if it doesn't come off."

During the week of the Moldova game, O'Dowda, who qualifies to play for Ireland through his late Dundalk grandfather Brendan, noticed that there was a bit more focus being put on him by the coaches in training.

With Robbie Brady and James McClean suspended, it opened the door for O'Dowda to make his first start and it was an opportunity he seized with both hands.

"I had a real inkling that I might be playing with (Robbie) Brady suspended and (James) McClean," he admits.

"I was working quite a lot with (Ireland coach) Steve Guppy, he was speaking to me after my games at club level and showing a real interest in how it was going.

"I knew they were watching me, it was good, I was playing in a different role than I was used to but it was similar in a way with the way I break with the ball. It did help that we got the goal so early and played positive football."

Roy Keane travelled to Sunderland two weeks ago to watch O'Dowda, which in itself is indicative of how much closer he is edging towards playing a role against Denmark over the two legs.

"I actually didn't know until after the game that he was watching," O'Dowda says of Keane's visit.

"I think it's big for me that they're there just to watch me looking into these two games. It does give you a confidence boost."

Unless O'Neill springs a major surprise, O'Dowda will have to make do with a place on the bench in Copenhagen but for now, he is happy to just be involved.

He has come a long way in the last 18 months since he left Oxford United and to now be on the cusp of qualifying for the World Cup is the stuff of dreams.

Playing in the Premier League remains another burning ambition and with Bristol City currently in fourth place in the Championship, they have serious promotion ambitions.

"When you're training with the boys, I definitely feel I could hold my own in the Prem," O'Dowda maintains.

"But it's what you want to be doing, when you're growing up as a kid, that's what you dream of, you want to play in the highest league, go to the major competitions.

"You look at Huddersfield or Shane Duffy at Brighton, it is definitely achievable. You do sometimes pinch yourself about how close it could be."

For now however, his focus is on Ireland and playing his part in helping his adopted country make it to Russia next summer.

And given his recent form for club and country, he may play a crucial role in that yet.

"If you go off the last year or so I feel that I'm getting closer and closer," he adds.

"I know I had the start against Moldova but I do feel I'm getting closer and closer.

"The good thing is we're doing well as a team. These two games, whether I'm starting or in the stands, I don't really care so long as we win.

"When I was in the stand, four or five trips ago, you love being there but it's not the same as being out there. It's out of your control.

"You're not on the bench or pitch to make an impact. You're itching to get out there, shouting and screaming from the bench like a spectator.

"For me personally, if we can get through, it will probably be the best moment of my career."

Irish Independent

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