Rising star Callum O’Dowda on why he chose Ireland

Ireland wonderkid Callum O’Dowda has told The Liberty that he chose Ireland over his native England to make his grandfather proud.

Speaking ahead of Ireland’s crunch tie with Wales at the Annual FAI Awards in RTÉ Studios, O’Dowda was bursting with pride at being named Ireland Under-21 Player-of-the-Year. “It’s really nice to be recognised,” he said. “For your country to honour you in this way is incredible.

“It’s been a good couple of years for me in the Ireland set-up. Noel King has been fantastic for me. When he brought me in for my first game against Andorra he put me in from the start and I think that was the first time Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane watched me.

“Playing a few games for the Under-21s and scoring a few goals meant that I got called up to the senior team just before the Euros. Up to now it [being an Ireland player] has been great for me.”

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(L-R) Robbie Keane and Roy Keane during training //Twitter

O’Dowda was born in Kidlington, England, but despite encouragement from agents and coaches, he decided to play for the Republic of Ireland thanks to his close relationship with his grandfather. “[Opting for Ireland] was, for me, the right call. I had a lot of people telling me I shouldn’t.

“When I was younger, I honestly always wanted to play for Ireland. I’d go over there as a kid and visit my grandfather and at the end of the day, I just want to make him proud, and make my family proud.”

However, the Bristol City midfielder also feels a sense of patriotism when he plays in the Green shirt. “I’m also doing this for the country. That sense of pride you feel every time you pull on the jersey is special. I’ve been lucky enough to wear that shirt proudly and I can’t wait to do that again.”

He was influenced growing up by Robbie Keane, who was inducted into the FAI Hall-of-fame on the same night. “Robbie Keane is a legend. You can call him that without any hesitation. The stuff he’s done for this country is unbelievable.

“I remember my first trip with the senior team I was just around him and I was a bit shell shocked in a way. That’s what people like him do to you. It’s a real honour even to train with him… It’s no surprise that he won that award, he’s retired from international football, but his legacy lives on.”

The 21-year-old Oxford United Academy graduate grew up a Manchester United fan, so he naturally enjoys working with the legendary Roy Keane. “Watching Roy Keane was part of my childhood so working with him was a bit surreal. When you think about it, it’s a real honour to be involved with him in any capacity.

“As for Martin O’Neill, what strikes me is the faith he had in me. Think about it; World Cup Qualifier against Moldova, we’re drawing 1-1 and chasing a win. To bring me on really meant a lot to me. That belief was great.”

The young star has had a great start to life in an Ireland shirt, and is eyeing up a spot in the team for Ireland’s crunch clash with Wales. “Every player who has come on this trip will be dying to start, like any international trip. This is a big game and everyone wants to head out.

“But for me, it’s more about, if I’m given the nod I want to prepare the same way as usual and I want to make an impact, be it from the bench or starting and I’m ready for it.”

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