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Dublin: 4°C Tuesday 2 March 2021

'He’s the best I’ve worked with in terms of attention to detail and man-management'

Republic of Ireland winger Callum O’Dowda looks ahead to Thursday’s crucial clash with Slovakia.

STEPHEN KENNY HAS made a big impression on winger Callum O’Dowda since his tenure as Republic of Ireland senior manager began in earnest with last month’s double-header of Uefa Nations League games against Bulgaria and Finland.

With Kenny implementing a style based on the retention of possession and patient build-up play, Ireland looked like a team who’ll need time to adjust to the new approach as they drew 1-1 in Sofia, before suffering a 1-0 defeat at home to the Finns.

stephen-kenny Stephen Kenny pictured during Ireland's recent game against Finland.

However, O’Dowda is optimistic for the future of the Irish team under Kenny’s stewardship. Ahead of a crucial clash with Slovakia, the Bristol City man gave his views on the early stages of the new manager’s reign.

“Honestly, I think the gaffer has been brilliant,” he said. “The attention to detail is something I have really noticed – probably the best that I’ve worked under so far in terms of that aspect.

“I also think it is a bit tough when you go into a new camp and you haven’t had much time with the group and you’re getting across your philosophy, so that aspect has been quite hard.

“But listen, I’ve had phone calls with the manager and Zoom meetings with him previously as well. The more and more training sessions that we’re having and the more meetings and stuff, it’s only going to get better from now.

“It is obviously tough because it is a new philosophy and stuff, but I think we’re going to be even more prepared for this game.”

Elaborating on Kenny’s keen eye for detail, O’Dowda said: “It’s pretty much everything. In terms of this set-up now, I haven’t actually been in a set-up like this. It’s everything, whether it be from analysis meetings to physical work-outs and stuff and gym-loading meetings etc. – it’s all that.”

He added: “I’m definitely really impressed with the manager so far, and he’s the best I’ve worked with in terms of the attention to detail and man-management side.”

Kenny backed O’Dowda by starting him against both Bulgaria – a game in which he was named man of the match – and Finland. 

“He’s shown a lot of faith in me and, for me, I wanted to pay that back instantly as much as I could on the pitch in the first game. It’s a massive thing for me and I just want to do the best I can for him, the country and myself.” 

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O’Dowda hasn’t played a game in almost five weeks, having sustained an adductor injury which forced him off in the second half of the meeting with Finland.

callum-odowda Callum O'Dowda in training at Abbotstown yesterday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He returned as an unused substitute for Bristol City’s win against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, and despite his lack of match practice, the former Oxford United player is confident that he’ll be “ready if chosen” in Bratislava on Thursday night.

O’Dowda now has 20 senior caps on his CV, but if he’s selected against Slovakia it will be just his seventh start in a competitive game at international level.

His debut for Ireland came in a friendly against Belarus before Martin O’Neill’s side departed for Euro 2016, but O’Dowda ultimately didn’t make the squad for the tournament.

The Boys in Green must overcome Slovakia to keep their hopes of qualifying for a third consecutive European Championships alive. A decisive showdown against Northern Ireland or Bosnia & Herzegovina will await the winners of Thursday’s tie.

“It is probably the biggest,” O’Dowda responded when asked about the significance of the game in the context of his career so far.

“I had a chance to go to the Euros four years ago with the squad, and the feeling around the squad was incredible. I came into the set-up and everyone was so happy, everyone was confident.

“I wish I was on the plane. I don’t think I deserved to go anyway, as the players that got into the squad there deserved to go, but I wish we can get there again and I’d love to go.”

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Paul Dollery

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