Football

"There's No Ceiling For Him": Leixlip United Back Andrew Omobamidele To Reach The Top

"There's No Ceiling For Him": Leixlip United Back Andrew Omobamidele To Reach The Top

Few Ireland internationals ever name-check their schoolboy clubs while doing post-match interviews, but Leixlip United's own Andrew Omobamidele did on Tuesday night.

It is no secret that the 19-year-old is proud of his roots, and for those at the club who helped him along his journey, they take great pride in that.

Up until last week, the Norwich City defender was a relative unknown in senior international football. Granted, he has impressed at underage level, but his stock has risen substantially during the last ten days.

After making his debut against Portugal following an injury to Dara O'Shea, Omobamidele missed out on Saturday's 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan.

But he would bounce back from that to star against Serbia on his home debut for the Boys in Green in a World Cup qualifier.

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To those who know him well, however, this came as no surprise.

Hailing from Leixlip United, the young defender is immensely proud of his roots, and the club are equally proud of him.

Coach Kenny Molloy played a pivotal role in Omobamidele's early development at the club, and he is still struggling to comprehend what his protege has shown on the international stage.

"To try and just put it into a couple of words is difficult," he said. "It was incredibly emotional for myself, my own family and Andrew.

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You always think that he's good enough and he will play for Ireland one day but when you're there and you see it in a World Cup Qualifier was incredibly emotional. We're so proud of Andrew.

Everyone at the club feels that they have played a part in Andrew's journey from the academy to the seniors.

Even the people around the town were saying 'our boy' after how well he done from the town's perspective.

It's fantastic and nobody deserves it more than our Andrew.

Like many, Omobamidele has been forced to work incredibly hard to get to the level where he is at today.

To call him a late developer may be a slight exaggeration, although, it was only a few years ago when his talent came to the fore.

Described as a quiet type early on, Omobamidele dusted himself off to assert himself as one of Ireland most exciting young prospects alongside international teammate Gavin Bazunu.

"He was extremely raw, contrary and an intravert [when he came in]," Molloy says. "It took time to build Andrew up because he was quiet enough.

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He would have been in training with the B team and he wasn't too pleased with that at the start because his friends were in with the A's.

He had such a good personality where he would be contrary with me but when he was in there he would roll the sleeves up and get on with the players on his team. But he was very raw, and I don't think he knew how good he could be.

He was always in the club training with the younger and older lads. The problem was getting Andrew out of the club.

I used to get calls from Tony. our groundsman, saying that he hopped the fence again [to get in and play]. But they just gave up and gave him the key [eventually] and they would leave balls out for him.

He was the first one in and the last one out. I used to drop him home in the car and to get him home I had to turn off the floodlights just to get him into the car. Once he got into it, was a case of getting him home.

Leixlip United, prior to the 2010s at least, were by no means a major player in schoolboy football.

The club were rarely considered in the bracket of the so-called 'bigger clubs' like St Kevin's Boys and Belvedere to name a few.

The North Kildare outfit, however, went for a new approach a decade ago. Club stalwarts Paul and Robbie Martin, Robbie Fay, David Dolan, Kevin Mooney, and the already mentioned Molloy instigated plans for a new academy system at the club.

And those plans bore fruit with players like Omobamidele being allowed to flourish on the big schoolboy stage in the DDSL when their chance came.

Andrew Omobamidele Leixlip United

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It was when Leixlip had the opportunity to play their teams in the DDSL was when Omobamidele began to shine.

"There was a game against Joeys [when we were in the DDSL top league], a really good Joeys side, that included Mipo [Odubeko], when I realised how good he can be," Molloy reflects.

"That was the day I felt I was looking at someone who could be different class. After the game we were approached by Larry Dunne, the Manchester United scout.

He came over to me and said that it reminded him of a young Paul McGrath, and that was something that I was afraid to admit.

That was the comparison I would have made, and that was how he performed on that day. You're always going to be biased about your player.

But when you have a Manchester United scout coming to you and saying the same it gives you belief. He kicked on from that and was getting interest.

After Larry [Dunne] there wasn't much interest. There was no ceiling to Andrew and in matches he was probably only just doing enough and then showed glimpses of pure class.

At times it was easy for him and it was about trying to get the best out of him.

He wasn't picked for many DDSL squads, and I don't blame them now on reflection because they weren't sure of him. I spoke to a few scouts who thought the same thing, and they weren't sure if they were able to take a gamble on him.

He went over to a few clubs and there was one club in particular who had a mutual agreement to sign and then I got a call to say that they were not taking him. He was really disappointed and he had a number of really close calls like that.

Andrew Omobamidele Leixlip United

After suffering a number of setbacks after trials with Stoke City, Leeds United and Rotherham, Omobamidele was reeling in a mental sense.

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Keen not to hold their prized asset back, Molloy kept throwing the Kildare teenager in at the deep end before Norwich City came calling.

That eventual move to Norwich came just at the same time when the League of Ireland U15 league was starting. And it was believed a move to a League of Ireland club was a potential move down the line if a move across the Irish Sea did not materialise.

"The League of Ireland was starting to come in then and he wasn't getting as much interest," Molloy explained.

But at that stage he was starting to fill out his boots and developing more physically. He then got interest [after playing] in the Milk and Galway Cup.

He then went over to Norwich and did OK the first trial and then he did a little but better in his next one.

We felt that the worst case scenario would bring him into the League of Ireland so we thought why not try to keep pushing him to go to England.

But we even then didn't if it was right to keep bringing him over because of the impact it was having on him mentally.

His mother even pulled me aside to ask if this was the right thing to do, and she was right to be worried about him. She was his mother.

They lost 6-0 to Chelsea but he rang me to tell me that they were going to keep him and it was just elation.

It was more relief than anything. I spoke to Norwich and they said to me that they weren't taking Andrew to Norwich on what he was there and then, but it was where they thought he could be and that's what we thought at Leixlip.

That was just music to our ears.

While he eventually made his move to Norwich from Leixlip, he did in fact almost leave the club to join a well-known Dublin schoolboy club prior to that eventual move.

Molloy, who knew Andrew well, managed to convince him to stay with an impromptu way of speaking to him one-on-one.

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"A few lads were poached up by a couple of clubs in Dublin," he said. "He went to train with one of the inner-city clubs in Dublin and that was when I took over the two teams together. I wouldn't let that happen.

"I cycled by his estate for a week or two to try and catch him by the road. Nowadays if I did that I would be out in a van and sent away, but my excuse was that one of my best mates lived on that road.

"I knew that if I caught him he wouldn't say no and he came up to training the next night. That was it then and it was never going to be anyone but Leixlip. I wasn't going to let him anyway!"

And so it proved, with Omobamidele steering 'his club' to All-Ireland success against the more traditional schoolboy kingpins in the capital.

Andrew's background is diverse, and it reflects a new Ireland that is ever-changing. And it is his journey that is proving to be a major source of hope for those in and around Leixlip United, and potentially even beyond.

Andrew Omobamidele Leixlip United

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"To have him in there is fantastic," Molloy gleams. "The likes of Gavin Bazunu, Adam Idah and Andrew are going to be heroes when they are older like Phil Babb, Paul McGrath and Terry Phelan were to me.

It's fantatic. Andrew will tell me he's more Irish than me. He's extremely proud of his roots and to represent his country.

The academy kids idolise Andrew. He came in the other day to write letters for the young lads and sign jerseys, he loves doing stuff like that. He relates to them all.

When he comes home he trains beside them in his gear and would play with them in training. He's spread all across the club. Even the coaches at the club are on first name terms with him at the club and it feels like he is a part of us. It is really special.

So, this is the million-dollar question. How far can he go?

In truth, not many of us do, but Kenny Molloy, the man who has shaped the Ireland international more than most may.

"I'm always nervous to say that he'll go all the way because I know how cut-throat football is but if you ask anyone around the club, this fella is going to be something special," he concludes.

There's no ceiling for this fella. I don't care what people say, you need a bit of luck but there's no ceiling with Andrew and that's why it's difficult to not get too excited. I've tried to keep him grounded long enough at this stage.

In fairness to him he takes a lot of it on board, or he pretends to, at least. I think he can go and play at the highest level. He's played in a World Cup qualifier and I think he can consistently do it in terms of doing it in England.

He's 19 and every time I watch him there's improvement. He's not finished, there's still more growing in him but the stuff he was doing the other night was stuff we saw him doing at Leixlip but he's doing it quicker, faster and stronger against much better opponents.

If he's doing that at 19, how can you not be excited by that. I'm always really nervous to think that out loud but when you see him do that the other night..

He always wants to improve and that's why I think he will push on and on. That's not to say he doesn't pick up the phone and have a whinge, but I have to reel him in and say he's 19. He rolls the sleeves up and gets on with it.

"He said that it was the moment of his life [playing against Serbia], and if he thinks that was good, he should wait until we qualify for major tournaments. To get a taste for that will only whet [his] appetite."

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