James Abankwah has started taking Italian lessons ahead of his summer move to Udinese but the biggest education the teen can receive is being part of a title-winning team.
He tasted success for St Patrick’s Athletic last season by winning the FAI Cup and intends signing off on his domestic career by helping Tim Clancy’s side move into position for a first Premier Division crown in nine years.
The terms of the 18-year-olds €500,000 deal hatched with the Serie A club entail him remaining with the Saints until July, affording the opportunity of combining his footballing trajectory with his Leaving Cert.
Adding in the preparations for his continental move and duties for Ireland’s U19s, the demands can be overwhelming. Clancy spotted the congestion early in the season and ordered a break from his side to concentrate on mock exams.
He’s back juggling the commitments, enjoying the variety, and returned from international duty with his first goal for Ireland. That it came against England in their back yard, am equaliser at Walsall in an U19 Euro qualifier, made it all the sweeter.
The defender isn’t renowned for his goalscoring, instead of tasked with stopping his former boss Stephen O’Donnell’s Dundalk side scoring them at Inchicore on Friday.
Deposing champions Shamrock Rovers is the objective for both, along with catching early leaders Derry City, but contributing to a title challenge before he departs is the aim of Abankwah.
He made 13 appearances during his breakthrough campaign under O’Donnell and has been trusted by Clancy to start against Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers. He was sprung from the bench against Drogheda United last Friday, assisting their comeback to nick a point that keeps them third.
“It was nice of the manager to give me the break for the mocks but I’ve come back and want to play my part,” said Abankwah.
“I’ve a lot on but am really enjoying the experience. I’ll get better the more games I play and hopefully I can help the team stay up around the top.”
Abankwah will be joined in Italy by fellow rising Irish star Festy Ebosele. Although both are part of the UK-based Wasserman agency, they have yet to meet. The younger of the duo is brushing up on his Italian ahead of moving on a four-and-a-half year contract.
“I have a tutor who gives me Italian lessons once per week,” he explained. “We felt it would be a good idea before I move over to Italy full-time and it will help that I know some of the language.”
Whatever Amankwah or any player conjures on the Richmond Park surface will be overshadowed by events on the bench. O’Donnell stunned the Saints fans and owner Garrett Kelleher by quitting for Dundalk within three days of leading the team to FAI Cup glory against Bohemians before a crowd of 38,000 at Aviva Stadium.
A dispute over O’Donnell’s contractual status soon erupted and Kelleher has gone legal by issuing high court proceedings. St Pat’s are seeking damages against O’Donnell, alleging he met with Dundalk reps in advance of the Cup final.
Early signals of no welcome mat were on show when the Saints pre-match preview didn’t feature O’Donnell once. The player they presented for an interview, Tom Grivosti, only arrived in the off-season following the managerial changeover.
Elsewhere on Friday, Shelbourne will be all out at Tolka Park to upset another Rovers, Shamrock, after shocking Sligo at the Showgrounds on Monday. Drogheda United and Bohemians face off at Head in the Game Park in the third top-fight game of the night.
In the First Division, both Galway United and Waterford will be looking to make the most of Cork City’s idle weekend in the race for the one automatic promotion slot.
City lead Galway by three points, with third placed Waterford eight points adrift of Cork with tonight’s visit to Cobh Ramblers in hand.
“Waterford like to get the ball down and play but can go direct,” noted Cobh boss Darren Murphy ahead of the St Colman’s Park showdown.
“They’re another full-time outfit with power, pace and intensity running through their squad. It’s a challenge for our players but they are fit and just need that bit of belief for this Munster derby.
“We were unlucky not to get a point at Galway United last weekend and we’ve just to put away some of our chances.” The second fixture in the tier is between Bray Wanderers and Treaty United at Carlisle Grounds. All of Friday’s games in both divisions kick off at 7.45pm.
Galway aren’t in action until Saturday when they host Wexford, who pushed City all the way last week, eventually losing by a solitary goal.