Callum O’Hare: Coventry star is not affected by tags to Man City’s Jack Grealish

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Slick back hair, creative in midfield and a thick Midlands accent – it’s impossible to not notice the Jack Grealish characteristics when watching Coventry’s Callum O’Hare play.

Were it not for the fact he wears his socks high up his leg – rather than the low-down look England’s first £100m footballer adopts – then the two players would be identical.

“It was after I left Aston Villa when I got those comparisons to Jack,” the Sky Blues midfielder tells Sky Sports before his side’s trip to Derby. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen play, so to be compared to him is a bit of an honour.

“It doesn’t put any pressure on me. I can only do as well as I can do. I know I need to improve in some areas and I think I’m on the right path and I can get to that stage one day.”

Image: O'Hare scored twice and set up another in Coventry's 4-1 over Sheffield United

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The comparisons go way beyond physical when it comes to O’Hare and Grealish. Both players came through the Aston Villa academy, both represented Warwickshire in Gaelic football as kids and both are creative midfielders with a reputation of drawing fouls from midfielders.

O’Hare is far out in front when it comes to most fouls drawn by a Championship player. Second tier defenders have hauled the 23-year-old a whopping 93 times this season, with the second-highest player still in the 70s.

It is highly likely that Coventry’s No 10 picked up that style of play from Grealish in the Villa academy. The two midfielders are close through O’Hare’s cousin being a mutual friend, while they also played half a dozen times together for Villa’s reserve team.

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Image: Callum O'Hare came through Aston Villa's academy with Jack Grealish

“I can kind of see it because we both play in a similar way and we both get fouled a lot,” he says. “But we’re obviously two different players and he’s doing his thing now. I’m really happy for him as he really deserves it.

“He’s the most expensive English player. Everyone aspires to be like that but I’m not really surprised. I’ve seen him play numerous times and everyone could see it coming.

“In ability he would push me in training and he’d always give me advice and that really meant a lot. Hopefully I’ve learned from it.”

But being a Championship replica of Manchester City star Grealish does have its down sides. In being one of the second tier’s most creative players in terms of progressive running, chances created and fouls drawn, O’Hare gets his fair share of hard knocks.

Image: O'Hare's overall stats for this Championship season

It all came to a head last month during a 1-1 home draw with Preston, when O’Hare was fouled seven times by the opposition defenders, forcing him to miss their next match at Swansea. Sky Blues boss Mark Robins complained that O’Hare had been “kicked from pillar to post and it’s been one too many times.”

“I can’t lie, I was fuming with that – I haven’t missed a game in so long,” O’Hare reveals. “I play through all my injuries, even if I get niggles and knocks I’ll still play. But that one against Preston, I got fouled so many times that I couldn’t walk. I tried to train before we went to Swansea and I got kicked in the same place and I couldn’t move.

“I didn’t mind it [getting brought down] to start with. It’s alright that you’re getting fouled and winning free-kicks. But then it gets annoying. Sometimes you get a chance when you’re through and you get dragged down and you go ‘not again’. Sometimes I don’t even get the foul which is even more frustrating. I’ve just got to get on with it and get my game really.”

Anyway, it’s not the Grealish comparison that Coventry fans sing towards O’Hare in the stands. The 23-year-old has coined the tagline ‘the Solihull Messi’ – and the midfielder has hailed his connection with the Sky Blues faithful, who have endured a lot of struggle over the past few years in terms of following their club.

Image: O'Hare has been fouled 93 times in the Championship this season, more than any other player

“Yeah that makes me feel good!” he says while smiling. “Messi is someone I’ve idolised ever since I was growing up and he’s the best player to ever play. For the fans to give me that name, that’s always nice to hear.

“I feel like I’ve really connected with the club and they’ve been brilliant with me. To be fair, they’re brilliant with everyone. Everyone of my team-mates that I’ve spoken to have said that even when you’re not playing your best, the fans still drive you through and give you that energy. It’s a really nice club to play for.

“You could say that I’m a Coventry fan now. It’s hard to do that when you play for them but you’re meant to be a fan when you play for them because you want the results to go our way, whether you’re playing or not.”

No moment showed O’Hare’s fandom for Coventry more than when the Sky Blues achieved promotion to the second tier in the summer of 2020, through the controversial points-per-game system after League One clubs voted to curtail the season due to coronavirus.

Coventry’s young midfielder, still on loan from Villa at the time, took to the city’s streets with a large speaker and sang chants in the street, with his actions going viral on social media.

“I just lost my head! The club said it [promotion] might be today and I chucked Sky Sports News on and they announced that we had gone up and we won the league. There was a speaker there and I just put ‘Pump it Up!’ on it outside.

“It was just me on my own with the boombox! I had a good time and it went on social media and everyone loved it.”

Back onto the serious topic of Coventry’s promotion push – and it’s clear the Sky Blues will be reliant on their No 10 in their promotion push. That, and their knack for scoring late goals.

Derby County
Coventry City

Saturday 19th March 12:00pm

The phrase ‘Coventry City time’ – a twist on Manchester United’s ‘Fergie Time’ – rings around the ground during the final few minutes of every game and you can see why. Robins’ side have picked up 13 more points from scoring goals after the 85th minute of Championship matches – they’d be 19th in the table without that extra tally.

“It’s both of how we’re coached and trained and also that never-say-die attitude,” O’Hare reveals. “It’s never over until the whistle is gone and I think all the lads believe that. We’ve shown this season that we can go until the end and still get some goals in injury time.”

But what Coventry really can do with is some consistency. Either side of a 4-1 win over Sheffield United last Saturday, which saw O’Hare score twice and pick up an assist, have been defeats to Swansea, Luton and most recently Hull.

But other teams have lacked that consistency too, and it’s set up a thrilling end to the Championship campaign. Coventry are still five points behind the top six and the race for the play-offs goes down to 14th in the table, as we enter the final 10 games of the season.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship game between Coventry and Sheffield Utd

“It’s crazy, there are so many teams that can go up,” O’Hare says. “It’s mad! You’ve got to take it game-by-game. There’s so many that can crumble or go up. It’s going to be interesting.

“When it gets to this point of the season, obviously you want to play well but it’s about the results. It’s getting down to the nitty, gritty and you have to produce the results. Hopefully we can get back to what we were doing nearer the start of the season and put a few wins together.

“It’s what you play football for – you play for the fans. For them to get excited and enjoy it. So hopefully we’ve got one more push in us to get ourselves in the play-offs if we get our heads down and get results.”

The challenge is mighty for 11th-placed Coventry, but they have shown this season they will never give up this late on.

Watch Derby County vs Coventry City live on Sky Sports Football this Saturday from 12pm; kick-off 12.30pm

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