Belfast Telegraph

O'Dowda blocking out the Premier League rumours by focusing on Danish test

Focused: Callum O’Dowda at Republic of Ireland training
Focused: Callum O’Dowda at Republic of Ireland training
David Kelly

By David Kelly

The time had come for Callum O'Dowda to reset. Turning on social media had become too much of a turn-off. Something had to stop. And when he lifted his head from his phone and looked around, it made him wonder why he ever started.

"Just getting hate and stuff," he says of what he has witnessed in the modern-day dressing-room. "You see it affects them.

"That's why I'm not on Twitter or Instagram, I don't have them on my phone. It's a big thing really. People don't see how it affects players.

"I haven't seen it as much this season, but I have seen it in previous seasons with younger players looking at what certain people are saying. I keep away from it."

Before he is labelled a monkish millennial, O'Dowda does have social media accounts, and posts on them too; the key difference for him is the refusal to invite mutual engagement within them.

Experience has guided his decision - and the experience of others. James McClean is an atypical example, but instructive nonetheless, with abuse not restricted in his case to keyboard warriors either.

For all the supposed flakiness of the millennial, Love Island generation, the hidden mental scars of excessive exposure remain largely secreted within the bubble of supposedly blissful celebrity.

O'Dowda, who could this summer be bound for the Premier League, the biggest bubble of them all, simply refuses to court it.

"I suppose everything is online," he says ahead of tomorrow's Euro 2020 qualifier in Denmark.

"I just don't go looking for it really. Having all the social media apps, you are going to get some stuff through.

"But for me, as an example, I don't have Twitter on my phone, and even if close friends message me, I won't see it. The only way they can get me is through my phone number really."

Then again, using McClean once more as an extreme reference point, haters are going to hate.

"Possibly, that might be the case," says O'Dowda, whose grandfather, Brendan, was a famous tenor, not to mention a decent defender for Louth back in the day.

"You can get it on the pitch as well, so I suppose you'll get it regardless. But it's more on social media, because it is the Love Island generation, as you say.

"I remember when I was at Oxford, you are getting the comments and the family hear it. It's more intimate there and everything is closer to you.

"And you think to yourself that you don't want to leave yourself open to all that. So I can't remember the last time I went on Twitter or anything like that.

"It's good for your head, I suppose that's the main thing. And when you're playing three games every week, it's a waste of energy worrying about all that other stuff when there's so much else to focus on."

The temptation to detox might be increasing at this time of the year; O'Dowda seems to be in demand (£17.5m or thereabouts) after being apparently frozen out of the Ashton Gate picture by Lee Johnson since picking up a knee ligament injury in March.

Then again, with all his notifications switched off, O'Dowda's ignorance is blissful, for now at least.

"There has been speculation about me, but there is always speculation," says the player who has reputedly reneged on extending a contract which expires next summer.

"At the moment I'm still contracted and that's where I want to leave it really because, while I'm here, my main focus is on these two games, starting against Denmark. It's all I'm thinking about.

"Even the season before, there is always talk about it. Some players will be reading it. I'd rather get on with it and leave it to one side.

"You have to, because you have games. You can't let it affect you. Some players will read stuff in the papers and then speak about it on the bus and you can see how it affects them.

"For me, it's these two games I need to think about, and then if there are things after that, we'll see."

Now 24, he is keen to shake off the perennial 'promising player' tag. Martin O'Neill was on the verge of taking him to Euro 2016 after out-shining everyone else in a grim friendly farewell game against Belarus.

O'Neill admired his ability and, after turning up for the new manager's first two games despite being injured - which may not have impressed Bristol City either -he is now keen to impress Mick McCarthy.

"I want to kick on now," O'Dowda says. "It's difficult as I see myself as quite versatile. At Bristol City I have been used on the left wing, the right wing and even as a second striker. I have played in midfield and at left-back.

"It's hard to adapt sometimes in central midfield because you just cannot take on the world, even though sometimes I do!"

The hype around him may continue to grow this summer, but for now at least, you feel sure Callum O'Dowda will be the last one to know.

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