Ireland's Andrew Omobamidele greets the fans as he takes to the pitch for the warm-up. James Crombie/INPHO
teenage dreams

The 19-year-old who lit up the Aviva

Andrew Omobamidele made his full debut in Ireland’s draw with Serbia.

THE CLICHÉ in football is that it usually takes around 15-20 games to grow accustomed to the international stage.

Andrew Omobamidele, by contrast, has looked at home instantaneously.

Fellow 19-year-old Gavin Bazaunu was deservedly named man of the match, but Omobamidele was undoubtedly Ireland’s most impressive outfield performer on the night he was handed a full debut, having also impressed off the bench away to Portugal last week.

Like many of the best defenders, the teenager appeared to be almost gliding at times, so impressive was his movement. He read the game very well, making some timely interceptions at the back and for someone unaccustomed to such big nights, he looked extraordinarily calm and accomplished on the ball.

“It’s one that I won’t forget,” the centre-back said afterwards. “You can never get your first start in an Irish jersey back so before the game, I wanted to perform. It was my first time playing and starting in the Aviva. The crowd was just… I’ve never experienced anything like that in my whole footballing career. It’s probably the highlight of my career so far.

“In those situations, you have to block out the crowd at times when you’re under pressure and your opposition as well. At the end of the day, it’s 11 v 11, and you just have to be calm, because there’s no point being rushed when you’re under pressure.”

Omobamidele almost capped off a fine performance in spectacular fashion. With Ireland searching for a winner, he drove forward in second-half stoppage time before producing a powerful strike that Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic did well to tip away.

“I was taking my jersey off already straight away after it left my boot,” he laughs. “To be fair to the ‘keeper, he pulled off a good save, but I was ready to jump into the crowd.”

Omobamidele found out he was playing in the Ireland team meeting on Monday and he admits to being somewhat awed by the prospect of lining out at the Aviva Stadium.

“At first, you don’t take it in. Then I walked into my room and it kind of sank in then. I told some of my close family members. Obviously, it’s a big occasion. It was my first time playing in the Aviva and in front of the whole nation. It was just a lot of emotions, excitement, it was a great feeling.”

The youngster was also encouraged by Ireland’s performance on the night, despite still waiting for that elusive competitive victory under Stephen Kenny.

“Obviously, we didn’t win, but it’s a huge step. We showed we can go toe to toe with these nations, with players like Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, all these world-class boys. We went toe to toe with them for 85 minutes. Obviously, it was unfortunate at the end, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction.”

As recently as 2019, Omobamidele was playing for Leixlip United. It was only last December that he signed his first professional contract at Norwich and a month later, he made his Championship debut with the Canaries.

“The journey over the last few years shows how football can change, how the opportunities can come so fast and you kind of just have to take them.

“At the start of the season last year, I was playing 23s football and come the end of the season, I’m stepping into one of the best sides, at that time, in the Championship.

“We were winning and stuff like that. Going from 23s and Christmas comes, there are a couple of injuries and you’re playing the last 10 games to win promotion. So I think it shows how fast football can change and you have to be ready to take your chance.

“Hopefully, I can take my momentum and performance back to Norwich and just keep my head down, keep training hard and see what happens.”

Omobamidele also praised the performance of Bazunu — a player he knows well from his time in underage football.

“Gavin’s one of my close mates. I remember playing against Gav in Leixlip versus Shamrock Rovers, these rivalry games, being in DDSL squads together, and he’s a great lad off the pitch as well, and obviously, on the pitch, you’ve seen all his stats with Ireland. He’s world-class, he’s got such a good future ahead of him. I’m just so happy for him that he’s performing at this level, I knew he could and he should be proud of himself.”

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