O'Neill: O'Dowda the future for Ireland

Matt Browne/Sportsfile
The former Celtic boss said that the 21-year-old did not look out of place in the senior set-up and tipped him for a big future

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill believes that Callum O’Dowda has what it takes be "the future" of Irish football.

The Oxford United winger was named in the senior Ireland panel for the first time when he was included in O'Neill's 35-man provisional squad for friendly games against Netherlands and Belarus, and has retained his place ahead of players such as Cardiff City's Anthony Pilkington and Aberdeen midfielder Jonny Hayes.

Speaking at the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) headquarters in Abbotstown, O'Neill explained that he has been impressed by O'Dowda and suggested that he has the potential to make a big impact for the Boys in Green in the coming years.

"With a little bit of luck he’s the future of the Republic of Ireland national side," the Ireland boss told reporters. "Hopefully over the next decade he’s brought into a squad, maybe for the World Cup qualifying games perhaps.

"Obviously he still has a lot of progress to make, but it’s nice to know he wouldn’t feel daunted by it."

O’Dowda enjoyed the best season of his professional career with Oxford this campaign, scoring eight goals in 38 league appearances for the U’s.

O’Neill first came across the English-born midfielder during the Ireland Under-21s' 4-1 loss to Italy at the end of March and he has been happy with what he has seen from the versatile winger since.

"For a start, he can go by players which helps, he has nice control and, honestly, he looks fine," added the former Aston Villa manager.

"I’ll get an opportunity to speak to him this afternoon but I think he’s delighted to be in [the squad]. We didn’t do a great deal this morning but if that is anything to go by he didn’t look out of place."

O’Dowda said he was happy with how he went in his first training session and praised Ireland U21 manager Noel King for helping streamline his transition into the senior squad.

"It’s been really good, I’ve enjoyed a successful season at Oxford and obviously I’ve had a successful spell in the U-21’s with Noel King," said the Kidlington native. "He’s been really good to me as well and I managed to score a couple of goals and I’m just really happy to be here.

"I had a phone call from [O’Neill] just after the Italy game for the U-21’s and he just said that he’s going to be watching me and going to bringing me in in the future."

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The midfielder added that he is not content to 'make up the numbers' and said that he would like to "get on the plane" to Euro 2016. 

He said: "For me personally, I want to put a marker down and if I’m honest, see if I can get on the plane to the Euros. I don’t want to be making up the numbers, I want to be helping the squad as much as I can in the preparations in the two upcoming fixtures."

O’Neill has trimmed his provisional 35-man squad for the upcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Belarus, with Paul McShane, Jonny Hayes, Alex Pearce and Anthony Pilkington placed on standby.