Omobamidele and Collins, after the friendly win over Qatar in 2021. Alamy Stock Photo
ups and downs

Leixlip duo adapting and learning from tough times with Ireland and in Premier League

Nathan Collins and Andrew Omobamidele respective rises have not come without their challenges.

LET’S RUN A few numbers on Leixlip. 

It has produced two centre-halves who between them have accumulated 81 Premier League appearances, 25 Ireland caps, and €78 million in transfer fees. 

Yet neither Nathan Collins nor Andrew Omobamidele are yet 23. 

Among the many young players blooded by Stephen Kenny, the duo have proved to be among those with the most sticking power. Their introductions on the international stage won’t be forgotten for a long time. Omobamidele made his debut from the bench in Portugal, brought on to defend against Cristiano Ronaldo, while Collins capped his introduction with his luminous Beckenbauer impression in scoring against Ukraine. 

But football reserves hockey-stick trajectories for frighteningly few of its talents. Everyone else must negotiate a jagged, inconsistent line. 

Collins and Omobamidele grew up a couple of minutes from each other, and both have endured rocky spells since they came to the nation’s attention. 

Omobamidele has been cursed by injury, with a stress fracture to his back sidelining him for seven months. While he played all 90 minutes of Ireland’s most recent game – the friendly draw against New Zealand – it was only his second cap of the year. Remarkably, Omobamidele hasn’t played competitively for Ireland since the 3-0 win away to Luxembourg at the end of 2021. 

“I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and my injuries are part of the game”, says Omobamidele. “My mentality is more excited to get back in, and hopefully get to a level, and better, as I was at previously.” 

He was sustained by the memory of his better days with Ireland. 

“Those kinds of moments do get you through the injuries, thinking back to my debut against Portugal, the Serbia game”, he says. “It almost pushes you along a bit more, to think back on the big games you played and being around the lads.” 

He has also had to bide his time for competitive club action. Having been linked last summer with a move to AC Milan – Omobamidele says that was just speculation – he completed a €13 million move to Nottingham Forest from Norwich in the summer. 

Omobamidele became Forest’s 44th signing since returning to the Premier League just over a year earlier, and he spent months on the fringes of the league’s biggest squad. It’s one thing to try to impress at any Premier League club, but it’s another to try and stand out among the crowd at Forest. 

He didn’t make a single appearance under Steve Cooper, but has broken into the team under his successor, Nuno, who handed him his debut in the FA Cup on 17 January, against Blackpool. Omobamidele has played in all but three of Forest’s 12 games since then. 

“I wanted to challenge myself”, he says. “I know it’s not a case where you’re going to move teams and be first choice straight away. You move teams and you have to earn your spot and I know that first hand. Everything I’ve had up until now, I’ve had to graft for it, and I know how that is. I enjoy it to be honest. It was challenging, the first five, six months but I’m happy where I’m at. 

“Obviously I can get frustrated but when I come into training every day I’m 100 percent at it, or at least I try to be anyways. So, yeah, [Nuno] has given me that opportunity and I’m going to try my best to take it.” 

Collins accounts for the greater share of the duo’s caps and transfer fees. Collins alone has accumulated €65 million in fees across moves to Burnley, Wolves, and Brentford, and has twice broken the record for the most expensive Irish international. He was also Brentford’s record signing when he joined the club, but says those price tags do not bring any added pressure. 

“I don’t really notice it to be fair”, he says. “As much as it’s a price tag, there have been a lot more players out there more expensive than me so it doesn’t matter, I’m not focusing on that. I just want to play football, I want to be consistent with it and keep getting better.” 

This season has been rough, both collectively and on an individual level. Brentford, to now a paragon on mid-table stability, have been sucked into a relegation battle, denuded as they have been by long-term injuries to Rico Henry and Bryan Mbeumo, with Ivan Toney also missing the first half of the season. 

Collins has had to overcome his own injury issue, having been carried off at the end of Ireland’s final Euro 2024 qualifier in Amsterdam with an ankle ligament injury. He missed about a month of action and his manager Thomas Frank acknowledged it took Collins some more time to establish his rhythm.

He has also endured a nightmare against his former club Wolves, making three big errors in what was a 4-1 hammering. “I told him it will never be worse than this, it is impossible – with a smile on my face and being ironic”, said Frank after the game. 

“We’ve had a lot of setbacks as a team, a lot of injuries, a few ups and downs personally but I think I’ve grown again as a player and a person and I’m really enjoying it”, said Collins when asked this week to reflect on the season so far. 

“When you’re in the moment, in the season, it’s hard to see it that way. At the end I’ll look back to see I’ve played as many games, being consistent, playing every game and trying to stay fit week in, week out. That’s when I’m at my best and what I’m hoping for now at the moment.” 

At international level, meanwhile, Collins was hooked at half-time of the 2-0 loss at home to Greece, deemed partly culpable in the concession of the goals before the break. 

“That’s football really”, says Collins. “If you talk to any player in the world, it’s happened to them.

“Stephen was nothing but great for me. I played nearly 16 games in a row, he gave me my debut and everything really. I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s given me so much but that’s football. It’s how you bounce back from it and learn. I’d prefer if it never happened again but there’s every chance it could.” 

brentfords-nathan-collins-and-nottinaghm-forests-andrew-omobamidele-arrive-for-during-the-premier-league-match-at-city-ground-nottingham-picture-date-sunday-october-1-2023 Collins and Omobamidele ahead of the league meeting between Forest and Brentford in October. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Both Omobamidele and Collins are scrapping it out at the foot of the Premier League table, with Forest’s challenge complicated by this week’s deduction of four points for transgressing profit and sustainability rules. The Leixlip duo can at least lean on each other. 

“Me and Nathan have a lot of conversations, we are from the same area, so I talk to him regularly”, says Omobamidele. “It’s that experience type of thing, and trying to develop your game. We bounce things off each other regarding games and the relegation battle as well. It’s all about experience and how quick you can get it, and how fast you can develop and adapt.” 

“I was giving Andrew some stick about his points deduction but he’s taking it well and given me stick”, adds Collins. “That’s natural and normal. Myself and Seamie [Coleman] have been in the relegation fight for three years in a row. We joke about that. Football is so hard and it can change in a few games. We’re here together as a team, we’re Ireland but when go back to our clubs we can be enemies again.” 

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