Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Tommy Dickson/INPHO Callum O'Dowda speaking at Wednesday's pre-match press conference.
# Ambition
'James McClean is the kind of player I want to turn out to be like'
Bristol City and Ireland winger Callum O’Dowda admits he is still finding his feet at club and international level.

LAST THURSDAY’S MATCH with Mexico didn’t contain too many memorable moments from Irish fans’ perspective.

A second-string Ireland team comprising largely of Championship players were outclassed and beaten 3-1 on the night by a far superior Mexican outfit.

But in a Boys in Green team that struggled badly at times, there was one moment of individual brilliance that starkly contrasted with most of the play that came before it.

With Ireland’s confidence rejuvenated to a degree after Stephen Gleeson’s finely taken consolation goal, Callum O’Dowda picked the ball up just inside the Mexico half.

The Bristol City winger proceeded to go on the type of solo run that is so seldom seen in football these days and similar to what Ryan Giggs used to produce in his prime.

He easily beat one Mexican player for pace before darting past another and suddenly finding himself through on goal. All that was missing was a good finish, as O’Dowda’s shot was saved with relative ease by Mexico stopper Rodolfo Cota.

The electric pace the 22-year-old displayed was not dissimilar to another Irish star against Uruguay — but whereas James McClean buried his chance in the latter match, O’Dowda failed to do likewise in Thursday’s game. It perhaps epitomised the difference between the two players at this juncture, with the youngster not quite the finished product as of yet.

Naturally therefore, the Bristol City man is keen to ultimately emulate his older colleague.

“You look at when James McClean came on to the scene — he’s the kind of player I want to be like,” O’Dowda says.

When I get the ball, I want everyone to kind of get a bit up themselves, that’s the kind of stuff I want to be doing.

“When I come on and do something — let’s say Mexico, if I scored in that game, that would have really kick-started me off.

If it’s against Austria or if I come on and do something, that’s the stuff I want to be doing and that could transform into a start. They’re the key things that can happen.”

So clearly, O’Dowda is eager to learn in order to improve his game, and McClean is more than willing to help him along the way.

He has been really good to me, just little things in training. We’re big pals as well off the pitch, so that helps.

“He’s the kind of player — his running power, for example — I want to do stuff that he does, I like to implement what he does on the pitch as well.

It helps when I’m training with him. He’s the kind of player I want to turn out to be like.”

Unusually for someone who is primarily a winger on either side (preferably wide right), O’Dowda was asked to play as part of a three-man midfield alongside Conor Hourihane and Daryl Horgan in New Jersey, with the individuals in question looking less than comfortable at times as their opponents dominated the middle of the park for the most part.

But while the promising starlet admitted this role was “a bit different” to what he is used to, O’Dowda was nonetheless grateful to get 90 minutes in what was a first competitive start for his country.

It comes after a momentous 12 months for the English-born footballer, who qualified to play for Ireland through his late Dundalk-born grandfather, Brendan, who was a well-known tenor.

It is just over a year since he made his senior Ireland debut during the Euro 2016 warm-up game down in Turner’s Cross against Belarus, having impressed Martin O’Neill during a match in which he featured for Noel King’s U21 side. At that point, O’Dowda’s only experience of club football was playing with Oxford in League Two.

Bristol City v Cardiff City - Sky Bet Championship - Ashton Gate Simon Galloway Callum O'Dowda has played 34 times in the Championship with Bristol City Simon Galloway

But the following July, the youngster joined Championship side Bristol City for a reported fee of £1.25 million.

If I am being really honest, I have been happy with the way I have come on,” he says. “It’s been different for me. I have come from League Two, which is a big jump.

“Even before I joined Bristol City in the Championship, I got thrown into the international seniors here, so going from League Two football at Oxford — no disrespect to it, I enjoyed it and I loved it and I learnt a lot from it, but it was big, the transformation.

Even coming into it, Martin O’Neill was great to me joining up. I had a good feeling going into it because I knew I was coming in.

“I had a few telephone calls from him telling me that I was going to be coming in in the future, so the transition coming into it was good.

But now a year into it, I have really settled in the camp and even the start against Mexico — I obviously wanted to impact the game a bit more, but in key moments, late on where I think I should have scored, that’s the kind of stuff I want to be doing every time I get on the field.

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“Whether it’s against Austria at the weekend, that’s the stuff I want to be doing.”

Yet despite enjoying a phenomenal past year, there is still plenty of room for improvement in O’Dowda’s game. He featured in 34 of Bristol City’s 46 games in the Championship this season, though many of those were substitute appearances and few saw him complete 90 minutes. So how can he improve his first-team chances at club level?

“I think it’s consistency… It happens with a lot of players, it’s keeping the standard up and just being brutally honest.

At the club level, you need to do really well there and it helps here because obviously you don’t get much time when you are with Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, they don’t get to see much of you.

“That’s where they’re watching you, they’re watching you at club level in the games, so it’s (important to have) a good season next year.

I’ve put a really high mark on myself of how well I want to do. I have had chats with Lee Johnson, my manager at Bristol City. I want to have a really good season there and hopefully with the momentum of that, it will help me next year as well.”

After a couple of seasons in which he thrived at League Two level, the Championship, O’Dowda admits, has been somewhat of a baptism of fire.

It is a lot harder, but I still think there’s stuff that I have taken from my game in League Two.

“For example, in League Two, I could literally face the defender up, knock it down the line, whereas in the Championship, I might have to do a few more shifts and get people off balance.

But I have noticed about the Championship, I get a lot more time whereas when I was at Oxford, it would just be people out of shape and doubling up.

“But that’s the good thing about the Championship. I get a lot of time one v one, which is good, so it has its ups and down.”

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