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Saturday 1 October 2016

Callum goes from fan zone to the front line

Callum O’Dowda (r) in action again Oman. Pic: Sportsfile
Callum O’Dowda (r) in action again Oman. Pic: Sportsfile

A mere spectator, squeezed into one of the fan zones in France along with the great unwashed for Ireland's outings at Euro 2016 in France, Callum O'Dowda is likely to be far more of a participant and less a fan for the World Cup qualifying campaign which kicks off next Monday.

A year ago this week, Callum O'Dowda was tucked away out of the limelight, playing for his club against Yeovil in a run of the mill game in England's fourth tier.

Twelve months on and the 21-year-old has grown up a lot, with the old Yugoslavia, not Yeovil, on his mind, as he's very much part of Martin O'Neill's plans for a World Cup qualifying campaign which kicks off away to Serbia in three days' time.

O'Dowda made his senior debut against Belarus in May and was one of the few players absolved of blame for a poor showing in a 2-1 defeat. "It was a good night for me, making my debut, but not a good night for the team," he says.

"It was only a friendly but we still wanted to get the result, but I think the performance by the boys in France, in the games that mattered, was more important that a friendly defeat."

O'Neill had tried to bring O'Dowda to France as a non-playing member of the squad but UEFA rules prevent competing countries from doing that, so the grandson of the famous tenor Brendan O'Dowda went to France, as a punter.

"I went and watched some of the Euros in the fan zones over in France, I was there for the Belgium game in Bordeaux and I watched the Italy and France games as well, which were amazing matches," he says.

"I was over there with my girlfriend, on my off-season and I felt it would have been a bit cruel to go to the games but I was happy to watch with the punters in the fan zone. Just watching us play Italy and France was amazing, even though I wasn't part of the squad."

He's in the squad proper now and is there on merit, he feels. "May was my first trip with the senior squad but I felt I was here for a reason, I wanted to do well for the team and show what I can do, help out as much as I can," he says.

Even with more experienced players in the midfield position, like David Meyler, available to him, O'Neill chose O'Dowda to come on as a 65th minute sub for Stephen Quinn and claim his second cap.

"When I look back on what's happened in a year it's pretty crazy," O'Dowda told The Herald. "A few months ago I hadn't even played an U21 international, now I have two senior caps and I am going, hopefully, to Serbia with the squad when they fly out tomorrow. It's been a big year for me. Getting to play in the Oman game the other night, and play a part in that send-off for a legend like Robbie Keane, was just special," he added.

"A lot has happened for me even in a few months; two Ireland caps and the move up to the Championship with Bristol City but I think I am handling it well," he says.

"There is a step up in standard, it's quicker in the Championship but I do seem to get more time on the ball, and the pitches in the Championship are better. But I'm ready for it all."

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