Much of Ireland’s future currently rests in Norwich’s hands. In Adam Idah and Andrew Omobamidele, the Canaries have two exciting young talents who could both one day form a vital part of both their club and country.
Idah, of course, is already very much in Stephen Kenny’s plans. The Corkman looks to be the favoured player to lead the line in the number nine role, or perhaps partner Aaron Connolly in a little-and-large style front two. He certainly has the raw attributes with great size and pace, but is still in the infancy of his club career, with injuries and Norwich’s fine form in the Championship limiting him to just sixteen appearances thus far. With five caps already to his name at just 20-years-of-age, there is a good chance he will have a long career in the green shirt and multiply that number – especially if he remains at the upper end of the Championship with a club like Norwich.
This past weekend saw the first senior start for Norwich’s other promising Irishman, Omobamidele. At just 18, he’s already impressed in the Premier League 2 competition and has been involved in a couple of Daniel Farke’s senior matchday squads. With Norwich flying it at the top of the Championship this is a strong vote of confidence for Omobamidele and a great sign for Ireland given that we now likely have another young centre back about to enter the Premier League.
Despite West Brom’s horrid form, Dara O’Shea has been a revelation for Ireland and was one of the few who departed the past international break with his reputation enhanced. At just 22, he looks to have nailed a place in Stephen Kenny’s starting eleven going forward, be it with two or three at the back, and with seven caps already he’s well on his way to a huge haul if he continues at that pace.
Unfortunately for Kenny and Ireland fans, O’Shea looks like he’ll be returning to the Championship with West Brom – but having cut his cloth there last season and playing for a team that tends to bounce back quickly in the Championship and win a lot of games, it’s not the worst position to be in for a starting centre defender at the early stages of his career. Likewise, John Egan is certain to be playing Championship football next season unless a Premier League side plucks him in the summer which wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility given how impressive he’s been over the past couple of years.
In terms of other centre back options, Shane Duffy is only 29 and it would be foolish to write off his Ireland career just yet. If he finds the right home this summer away from Brighton and Celtic and rebounds in form, he’s still very much deserving of a place in any Ireland squad and continues to add valued experience, determination and a deadly threat from set pieces. Ciaran Clark had a pretty forgetful international break and is also on the threat of relegation to the Championship, but isn’t the worst of options in a situation where he provides backup cover rather than having to start.
If you were to determine a ranking order right now, Omobamidele is most certainly behind Nathan Collins of Stoke City who appeared 22 times in the Championship this season until an injury in early February ended his campaign. He had notched two goals and at 6’4” looks a ready-made replacement for Duffy when the time comes. Warren O’Hora is playing weekly for MK Dons in League 1, while Conor Masterson – who joined Swindon Town from QPR on loan in January – is another who has impressed at lower level and with the Ireland U-21s and is certainly in the mix, but his season has also been curtailed by injury.
But there is definitely a spot open for Omobamidele to come in and grab should he continue his rapid ascent at Norwich. And if his impressive debut is anything to go by, he won’t be long waiting given Kenny’s eagerness to try young players.
The Leixlip native was heavily involved in the 1-1 draw at Preston, with nine clearances, two interceptions, two blocked shots – including this brave double block from close range – and winning 5/7 aerial duels. With positive reports from Norwich fans, raving of a mature performance and calls for him to remain in the side, the 18-year-old is already drawing comparisons to former defender Ben Godfrey, who left the Canaries for Everton last summer. Whether or not Omobamidele remains in the side, it shows he’s definitely on the right trajectory. In addition, he’s playing for a manager in Daniel Farke who trusts youth and is willing to give them opportunities to start rather than shoe-horning more experienced players out of position.
The German raved about him after the game, telling reporters
“He played a major role in why we were so rock solid. Great performance, pretty pleased with him and definitely would have deserved to return with a clean sheet.”
Although he stood out aerially with some impressive positioning and strong clearances from crosses and set pieces, most expectation of Omobamidele will be based on his ability to play with the ball given the style of play Kenny is looking to introduce and Ireland’s overall move towards a more possession-based culture throughout the age ranks. Although it’s a small sample size, Omobamidele looked completely comfortable on the ball – with just over 84% pass competition and 59 touches in total – and didn’t appear fazed in the slightest, considering he had found out he was starting that very afternoon.
Ultimately, he didn’t look out of place which is something to note for a side heading towards a Championship title. A run in the side as the season comes to a conclusion would be tremendous for the youngster, as would a chance to play in the Premier League next season if the dice rolls his way.
Having just made his U-21 debut against Wales and signed a new deal at Carrow Road, keeping him until 2024, it’s early days yet for the Leixlip United recruit, but his star is certainly bright. There is a lot of potential emerging in the Irish setup and this generation is extremely exciting, regardless of how slow Kenny’s senior side have gotten out of the blocks. Although we’re still crying out for some attacking playmakers and goalscoring threats, the long-term future of Ireland’s central defence looks to be in safe hands.