More Ferdinand than McGrath: Andrew Omobamidele very much the modern defender

Kildare native fits the modern mould of tall, ball-playing centre half to a tee

All the Paul McGrath mentions sail slightly over Andrew Omobamidele's head. It's like asking a young Roy Keane how he feels about Johnny Giles. Or quizzing Gavin Bazunu on the dexterity of Pat Jennings.

You tend to worship what you witness.

“Rio Ferdinand, he was my favourite,” said Omobamidele. “Even what he’s doing after his career, it’s good to see.”

The sweet spot is that 24-year gap between Rolls Royce centre halves. At age 10 the boy from Leixlip had consumed Ferdinand's entire Manchester United catalogue.

McGrath praising the teenager resonates but nothing like a Rio shout-out on BT Sport would.

"I think my Mam sent it to me," said Omobamidele of McGrath's tweet following a solid Premier League debut against Arsenal 10 days after his first cap off the bench in Portugal.

“It’s great to get a bit of recognition off one of Ireland’s legends, a player who has done so much in the Premier League.

“It gives you that little pat on the back, a bit of recognition. It also gives you that extra bit of motivation because people are starting to recognise you and your talent. It makes you want to work harder.”

Knobbly-kneed colossus

He probably heard about this ancient Aston Villa warrior from Norwich City coaches who witnessed the knobbly-kneed colossus.

“It was a bit before my time so, no, I have not seen any videos.”

Omobamidele’s time being right here, right now.

The current Ireland manager, if you listen carefully, tells you what he is thinking. Take the lead up to Portugal last September. Stephen Kenny kept leaning into the potential of Nathan Collins. Kenny grew up around that famous football family, same vintage as the dad and uncle, knew all about the cousin who threatened to do what the Burnley defender is firmly on course to achieving.

Growing up in Leixlip, Omobamidele’s ability was never in question but Collins was the local talent, with pure blood pedigree, destined to come good.

Kenny earmarked him as the coming man until a knock changed the course of recent history.

Before this pair of north Kildare wannabes there was Dara O'Shea. The 22-year-old had established himself in an Ireland back three alongside Shane Duffy and John Egan, until he broke his ankle 36 minutes into that faithful night at Estadio Algarve.

"I see Andrew going all the way to the top and I've probably been afraid to say that out loud," said Leixlip United coach Kenny Molloy back in June. "If he gets that bit of luck. He hasn't had a lot of it. He has sat in my sitting room hearing about other clubs not taking him to England.

“But I do think he is different to what we have had before. He’s a modern centre half who can play through the thirds. Virgil van Dijk has made it all sexy now, hasn’t he?”

Luck came and went in Portugal as Cristiano Ronaldo ghosted between Séamus Coleman and Omobamidele to plant a header from the heavens in the 96th minute.

“It was crazy making my debut against Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players ever and all these other quality players,” said Omobamidele this week. “Obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted, but to get out there and battle with the boys was great.”

Not overawed by the occasion or having to mark an icon?

“Nah I wasn’t.”

There’s a giggle, devoid of arrogance, just truth.

“I don’t think there’s a set way to stop Ronaldo. I think, yeah, obviously, you have to give him respect, he’s the best player in the world but at the end of the day it’s 11 v 11 on the pitch and we’re all human so it’s just how we play on the day.”

Gliding about

Collins' debut came against Qatar, on a night when Omobamidele was gliding about like McGrath in his pomp at Villa Park. If that late strike against Serbia had found the top corner, instead of Marko Dmitrovic's despairing glove, the Aviva crowd would have swallowed him whole.

"I was already taking my jersey off when it left my boot," he told RTÉ afterwards, "but the keeper pulled off a good save."

Nothing appears to rattle the 19-year-old. Not even the sacking of Daniel Farke as Norwich City slides back towards the Championship despite Omobamidele increasingly becoming an undroppable option. The headed goal against Leeds United was another reminder of his potential peak.

“What [Farke] has done for the club is just amazing, for the last four and a half years. Personally, he has been great, he gave me my debut and put me in the window to be here, on the international stage. He put his trust in me to play games at the crunch time of last season in the Championship and he’s trusted me to give me a couple of appearances this season and I will be forever grateful for that.”

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