For those with only a passing interest in football, it might have seemed as if Adam Idah came out of nowhere to dominate the sports headlines last weekend, as the 18-year-old from Douglas marked his FA Cup debut for Norwich with a stunning hat-trick in their 4-2 victory over Preston.
But, of course, as with any ‘overnight sensation’, in reality the Ireland U21 international has been a work in progress ever since taking his first baby steps as a footballer with his boyhood club in Cork, College Corinthians.
“He would have been only five or six when he started with us,” remembers Terry O’Donovan, head of the club’s schoolboy section. “He was quite tall even then but probably more gangly than well-built at that stage. What you would have noticed very quickly though is that he had tremendous pace. And you can’t buy that. As he moved through those younger ages he would have stood out, no question. He was the kind of lad that, if the ball was put up in his general area, he’d always get to it first.”
That was probably only to be expected of a sporting all-rounder who, as a member of Leevale Athletics Club, was making waves and winning medals in sprinting and the long-jump. But though he was also a prolific scorer from the outset, Terry recalls that his coaches sometimes found themselves remarking on how he could do with being a bit more assertive on the pitch. Only, as often as not, to almost immediately have to eat their words.
“Adam was a lovely young fella, a pleasure to deal with and not a nasty bone in his body,” he says. “He was so easy-going that it would even have been a bit of a concern. He was not the type of young fella who would go running all over the pitch chasing the ball. But when the ball did come into his general area, he took off. That was his nature. You’d sometimes watch a match as he got older playing with us and think, ‘Adam’s very quiet today’ but then in the space of a couple of minutes, he’d score two goals.”
And there was another distinguishing feature of his play — one that O’Donovan recognised again when he saw it replicated on the grand stage last Saturday, as Idah scored his first goal against Preston with his right foot and his second with his left before reverting to his right to confidently tuck away the penalty which saw him take home the match ball.
“I remember watching him playing a seven-a-side game for us against Wilton, using small schoolboy goals, when Adam was about 10. He picked up a ball probably 25 yards out and he smacked it in with his right foot, top corner. Grand, great goal Adam. Then, a few minutes later, he picked up the ball 25 yards out again, turned, and smacked it into the top corner — with his left.
“From the very start, playing competitive games, he had those two things — the ability to run with the ball at great pace and the ability to strike it with either foot. And that’s a huge thing in a young kid. Then, as he developed physically, he became even more powerful. When he was playing U12 he was like an U14 — he had pace and power. And he scored goals.”
Key to his continued development, says O’Donovan, was Idah’s higher education with the Irish underage teams, beginning with Colin O’Brien’s U15s.
“Once he started to get involved with them, where he was challenged a bit more because all the players you’re playing with are of a high standard, he started to have a better understanding of the game,” he observes. “And we’d see the change. He wasn’t just waiting for a ball over the top to use his pace; he was dropping into midfield, getting on the ball, linking up the play. He was developing more as an overall player than just being a tremendous individual.”
O’Donovan also pays tribute to Norwich for helping to bring out the best in Idah. “I think he’s at a good club,” he says. “He would have had a few options leaving us — Villa, Brighton, and Sunderland were all interested — but I think he’ll get more opportunities where he is.”
The young man hasn’t forgotten his roots. With a brother, Brandon, playing for the College Corinthians U18 side, Adam maintains regular contact with his formative club. “When he comes home invariably you’ll find him hanging around the place,” says his former coach.
But as much as all at Corinthians are “delighted and thrilled” with the progress being made by their young graduate, O’Donovan also admits: “You’d be nervous as well. It’s a difficult game. One per cent make it. So even though he had a brilliant day last Saturday, we know from experience that young players can be built up too quickly. You’d hope there wouldn’t be too much pressure or expectation.
Another big one could come as soon as 3pm today, with Idah in contention for a full Premier League debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
"However, Norwich manager Daniel Farke has added his own words of caution on the subject of expecting too much too soon from the teenager.
“It was great for Adam to get a hat-trick, but I don’t like the hype,” Farke said. “It was his first game on this level. I was pleased with him but we didn’t win the Premier League. With all respect to Preston, they had made several changes in their defence.
"It’s a bit different facing (Harry) Maguire and (Victor) Lindelof. Quality is defined by performances over a long-term period, so that’s what Adam has to do. He’s not a quality striker after one FA Cup game.”
By that exacting definition, perhaps not, but Adam Idah, as he was from the beginning, is most definitely on the right track.