Callum O’Dowda has embarked on a marvellous coming of age over the course of the season so far. At the beginning of the campaign nothing was expected of him. We had seen him introduced by Chris Wilder, a skinny teenager who in all honesty was ineffectual at best, and although he was a regular in the 18-man match-day squad he only mustered 10 appearences and failed to score. He seemed to lack self-expression and seemed restricted. But along came Appleton.
Michael Appleton has come under a lot of pressure this season due to the magnitude of the spending but the vast amount of distasteful results. However, credit needs to be given to the U’s boss for the way he has nurtured the youngsters and how he has developed them into competitive first team players. During Appleton’s very first interview with the club he said this:
“I want to see players who express themselves”
For a young, tricky winger, this is exactly the type of approach that you want to hear. Wingers thrive playing their own game and when playing with the utmost freedom. I believe this has acted as a catalyst in O’Dowda’s development. He now plays with a prowess and a confidence, which has seen him evolve from a one-in-four man into a three-in-four man. With this has come goals, assists and apparent interest from a host of clubs. It is also not a surprise that he has earned himself a call up for the Republic of Ireland U21’s.
The home game against Accrington Stanley was undoubtedly O’Dowda’s best all-round performance of the season so far. He took the game to seasoned right-back Nicky Hunt and tore him to shreds. His trickery and pace proved too much for the Stanley full-back and although he did not get on the scoresheet, his chance creation was through the roof and he helped his side to a 3-1 victory. This came just a few days after scoring his first U’s goal against Exeter and set the tone for an upwards spiral. Since then he has become consistent and has been a serious threat to the opposition and has put in radiant displays against play-off contenders Stevenage and Bury, in each case scoring the winner. Consequently, Luton Town manager John Still labelled him as a threat when they visited the Kassam and various other managers have been probing to cancel him out of the game as he is becoming an ever-present nuisance.
Now, all Oxford fans should know that we should not get carried away by the emergence of O’Dowda as we have seen far too many false dawns for our liking. But the Kidlington Kid, a lifelong fan of Oxford and one of the most auspicious emerging talents we have seen for years, is someone who may be a big name in years to come. It’s his destiny.