Andrew Omobamidele might well get the chance to measure himself against Kylian Mbappé next week, but only 12 months ago he was stuck at home weighing up another tedious day in a back brace.
In late 2021 the Norwich City centre back was informed he had a stress fracture in his back and would need to rest. Omobamidele started for the Canaries in their Premier League defeat away to Spurs on December 5th but did not play another game all season – sitting out the remainder of the campaign.
The former Leixlip United player had featured regularly for Ireland in 2021, making his senior debut in the World Cup qualifier away to Portugal.
Thankfully, he has recovered from that injury speed bump and has made 28 appearances for Norwich this season, 21 of them as a starter.
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The 20-year-old has also been included in Stephen Kenny’s Ireland squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Latvia and Monday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against France. Omobamidele is clearly relieved to have moved away from those humdrum laid-up days of last year.
“It’s not like a normal injury, where you’d have to do rehab and stuff,” he explains.
“With my back, it was just a complete shut down and I had to wear a back brace for about two months. I couldn’t do anything. I’d get up in the morning, go in, get a massage, go home again. That was my life. I had to wear it all the time except when I slept.
“Looking back now it was difficult. It made me find my way in certain areas that maybe I wouldn’t have found. I had good support back at Norwich and I’m just thankful I got through it.
“The worst part was they were not able to tell me, ‘you’re out for six months’. It was more like, ‘we’ll keep scanning every three weeks to see how it’s progressing’. That was the gruelling part for me, sitting there not knowing when I’d be back, wondering if it was a month, two or three. I could never plan anything, it was difficult.”
Having missed the second part of the 2021-22 season, during which Norwich suffered relegation, Omobamidele finally returned to competitive action when their 2022-23 Championship schedule kicked off against Cardiff at the end of July.
But he admits it took him several matches before that Cardiff encounter to restore confidence that his body could absorb the shunts.
“I think we played King’s Lynn away in a friendly, I was starting and I was proper nervous. I was going over it in my head, ‘what’s going to happen with my back?’ Stuff like that. But just a couple of passes, and stuff you take for granted when you’re playing football, stepping up with the line, I just kind of forgot about it,” Omobamidele says.
“I remember coming in with the boys at half-time and they were saying, ‘how’s your back?’ I was like, ‘it’s gone, I don’t feel it.’ That was probably the moment.
“That had been the first time in my whole career that I was out for more than a month. I had to ease myself back in and I was a bit anxious because you do everything with your back. I got a lot of confidence from those first few weeks when I got no pain.”
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He has had some ankle and groin issues in recent weeks, but nothing serious enough to keep him away from linking up with the Ireland camp this week.
One of Omobamidele’s key strengths is his pace, so if he gets selected next Monday night at the Aviva and Mbappé happens to come his way, that’s a challenge he would relish.
“I’d be happy, I’d embrace it, because after the game you are walking off knowing where you are as a player, because that is the ultimate test for any defender in the world, really,” he says.
“I think everyone agrees that he is a good player, he is quick, and I’d like to think I’m quick as well, so I’d love to do a foot race or something like that, see how quick I am!”
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From his training stats, Omobamidele says he can scorch out at a blistering 10.4 metres per second. Some reports have Mbappé clocking 10.6.
Either way, Omobamidele knows it is important Ireland do not get their Euro 2024 qualification campaign off to a sluggish start. He didn’t watch the rugby last weekend, but reckons the feel-good momentum of that victory can be harnessed by Stephen Kenny’s squad.
“When you see the rugby boys, when they won it gives you that, ‘oh we want to do that as well.’ These two games coming up, I know it’s a friendly with Latvia, but we want to go and beat Latvia, get confidence from Latvia, and bring that to the French game.”