Ireland's Andrew Omobamidele wants a foot race with Kylian Mbappe

Republic of Ireland's Andrew Omobamidele (left) is back after missing nearly 18 months of his international career
Republic of Ireland's Andrew Omobamidele (left) is back after missing nearly 18 months of his international career

FIT-AGAIN Andrew Omobamidele would embrace the challenge of marking French great Kylian Mbappe in next Monday’s Euro 2024 qualifier and wants to know who’s the fastest between the pair.

The 20-year-old Norwich City central defender has been named in Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland squad for tomorrow night’s friendly international against Latvia and Monday night’s glamour showdown with France.

Regarded as one of the brightest defensive prospects since the days of Paul McGrath, Omobamidele was flying for the Irish until a spate of injuries ruled him out of contention and put the brakes on adding to his five caps under Kenny.

His last appearance was Ireland's 3-0 win over Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier. Vying for a starting place with John Egan, Nathan Collins and Dara O’Shea, Omobamidele would love to pit himself against PSG star Mbappe, having marked Portuguese great Cristiano Ronaldo on his international debut in September 2021.

“I’d be happy. I’d embrace it,” said Omobamidele, replying to the prospect.

“After the game you are walking off knowing where you are as a player, because that is the ultimate test for any defender in the world, really.

“I think everyone agrees that he is a good player, he is quick, and I’d like to think I’m quick as well, so I’d love to do a foot race or something like that, see how quick I am!”

Asked just how quick he is, the Kildare native explained: “We do it off metres-per-second. I think the quickest I’ve run is 10.4m-per-second, which is quick. I don’t know what Mbappe’s is, but we’ll see.”

In Omobamidele’s absence, Nathan Collins and Dara O’Shea have impressed alongside resident centre back John Egan.

An unused substitute in Norwich’s scoreless draw with Stoke City last weekend, Omobamidele has only recently recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of league action for seven games.

But it was a back injury in the early throes of last year that caused him greatest concern.

A stress fracture meant he had to wear a back brace for several months, and not knowing how long he would be out of action for was a crushing blow.

“There was a lot of thinking,” he said. “The worst part for me was not telling me ‘you’re out for six months’. It was more like we’ll keep scanning every three weeks to see how it’s progressing.

“That was the gruelling part for me, sitting there not knowing when I’d be back, wondering if was a month, two or three. I could never plan anything, like being back for a game or an international camp.”

He added: “It’s not like a normal injury that you have to do rehab on. My back just completely shut down and that’s why I had the back brace. I did nothing for two months. I’d get up in the morning, go in and go home. That was my life for six months.

“Looking back now it was difficult. It made me find my way in certain areas that maybe I wouldn’t have found. I had great support back at Norwich.”

His first game back was a pre-season friendly against King’s Lynn last July.

“I was starting that game and I was proper nervous. I was going over it in my head: 'What's going to happen with my back?' and stuff like that.

“I think it was just a couple of passes and stuff you take for granted when you're playing football, stepping up with the line, being with your back four. After I just kind of forgot about it.

“I remember coming in with the boys at half-time and they were saying: ‘How’s your back?’ and I was like: ‘It’s gone, I don't feel it’. That was probably the moment.”

It may be a step too far for him to start against the French but he is likely to get some minutes under his belt against Latvia in the capital tomorrow evening.

“It’s great for us to have so many good players in each position. That’s only going to get the best out of us. For me, at centre-back, we have so many good young players in this position, so to have boys like Nathan [Collins], Dara O’Shea, boys like that, it’s only going to make you better in training and wanting to almost fight each other to get a starting place. Whoever does get it is going to perform.”