Abankwah's excitement drumming up for Italian mission

For a Leaving Cert student whose favourite upcoming exam is music, James Abankwah is hitting all the right notes ahead of his move to Udinese.
Abankwah's excitement drumming up for Italian mission

James Abankwah of St Patrick's Athletic in attendance at the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between St Patrick's Athletic and Bohemians at Richmond Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

For a Leaving Cert student whose favourite upcoming exam is music, James Abankwah is hitting all the right notes ahead of his move to Udinese.

The Serie A club didn't need to invite the 18-year-old for a trial to tempt St Patrick's Athletic with a bid in January of €600,000.

The budding defender will confront the Italian job full-time from the start of July, going straight into the first-team set-up for pre-season training.

Travelling won't be an issue for Abankwah, whose childhood movements were predetermined by the working life of his father.

Isaac Lartey AB, as a Reverend Minister in The Church of Pentecost, was in demand once he, his wife and two first-borns emigrated from Ghana to Ireland.

Born then in Waterford, James switched between Donegal and Longford before the latest stop in Dublin.

The upheaval of moving house and school would have been tested further in 2015 when his Dad was assigned to the Barcelona-based church but the family remained in Ireland.

"I missed having that fatherly figure around for four years," says Abankwah about his Dad's absence. "But I'll be going to Italy alone. My Mam (Comfort) was going to come over for the first month but I told her I'd be okay.

"Udinese are arranging for me to have my own apartment. I can't cook but there's a chef at the club to prepare meals. I'll be fine."

His laid-back nature extends onto the pitch – as illustrated when thrown into the fray as a substitute for the FAI Cup final victory St Pat's enjoyed last year.

Negotiating exams is a different story as Abankwah admits apprehension is more pronounced when it comes to the Leaving Cert kicking off on June 8.

"My parents haven't put any pressure on me and I'll just do my best," said the Adamstown College pupil.

"I wouldn't be the brightest with school, preferring the practical subjects like music where I play the drums.

"It will be good to have the Leaving Cert as back-up in case anything goes wrong with football. We've seen that injuries can end a player's career."

Where Abankwah has excelled academically is learning Italian, a subject he could well have mastered in exam mode had the move to Italy materialised early. It was his decision to take up lessons, rather than an imposition by his new employers.

He already had a basic grasp of French from his studies when undertaking a trial at Reims last year. The Ligue 1 club chose to sign his attacking St Pat's teammate Glory Nzingo of the pair, insisting they had a younger and better defensive option than Abankwah.

It was their loss, for the centre-back has flourished for the Saints and Ireland, an international set-up he plans remaining loyal to even if Ghana come calling.

He's been born and raised in Ireland, shook up some racist abuse and is finally seeing the fruits of his sacrifices.

"It's been a tough journey for me," he explained. "When living in Longford, I sometimes used to travel on the bus to Dublin for training and matches with Cherry Orchard.

"My older brother Isaac Junior was first to join Orchard and he brought me along.

"Just once did I experience racism when playing and that was from a father of an opponent when I was 10.

"I was thrown by it, not thinking football could be like that, especially from a parent. I was there to enjoy playing football with my mates. My Dad was at the game and went over to have a word with him."

His father was also forced to furnish James's passport when his age was questioned by the opposition.

That was when he was playing two years above his age-group and he's gotten used to being ahead of schedule. "Becoming a footballer is all I ever wanted to do and I don't mind stepping out of my comfort zone to see what this test will be like," he affirmed about his looming chance of a lifetime.

"Football For Unity 2022 festival, hosted by Sport Against Racism Ireland and the Dublin North East Inner City initiative, takes place from June 6th to July 15th. For further information, or to register a team, log on to www.footballforunity.ie "


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