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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Ireland assistant manager Alan Reynolds with Oliver O'Neill.
# belief
Ireland reap benefits from trusting 'the process'
Jim Crawford praised his side’s resilience after their late win over Sweden.

THROUGHOUT THE week, Jim Crawford and his Ireland U21s players insisted they would not deviate from their approach or change their principles in any way.

After back-to-back losses against Montenegro and Italy, the consensus was that Tuesday’s qualifying match with Sweden was a must-win encounter.

Some teams might have lost faith in the gameplan or adopted a more direct, long ball style.

Yet the most impressive aspect of the victory was how Ireland continued to play with composure and intelligence, despite the increasing sense of pressure and hopelessness amid what looked set to be a damaging draw, right up until the 92nd minute when they finally got the all-important winning goal.

“I don’t think we gave them too many opportunities at all,” Crawford said afterwards. “You probably saw glimpses of [Anthony] Elanga. But other than that, I thought we were very good defensively, and had a good shape about us.

“We probably got a bit too deep at times, putting pressure on the ball, which causes concern. So we just said ‘let’s freshen it up with legs’. [The substitutes] came on and did the trick too.” 

Ignoring permutations and the impact of more dropped points, Crawford added, was key to the self-belief that eventually got the team over the line amid the tightest of margins. 

“We haven’t even looked at the league table. We were just told before we came in that Sweden were top of the league. We concentrate on the process, the way we want to play and each game as it comes.

“In terms of benchmark [performances], yeah, we build on it, it’s a clean sheet. We’ve scored a goal from open play — it wasn’t a set-piece. So there are a lot of benchmarks to take from the game, I thought our shape was very good for most of the game and we’ve got to bring that to the next game in March. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a test for the boys to get three points [in the away fixture with Sweden].”

The U21s victory completed an excellent few days for Irish football. The senior side ended their campaign in positive fashion by winning away to Luxembourg, while the victory over Bulgaria confirmed the U19s place in the elite phase of qualifying.

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Some players that featured in the U19s’ win, including Anselmo Garcia MacNulty, Andrew Moran and Johnny Kenny previously spent time in the U21 setup, while two of the players Crawford introduced off the bench against Sweden — goalscorer Ollie O’Neill and Evan Ferguson — are still eligible to line out for Tom Mohan’s side.

Crawford did not rule out further instances of players moving up or down in age group ahead of the next window in March, which features vital games for both sides.

“The 19s qualifying for finals is also important so myself and Tom Mohan will have to sit down and have discussions about certain players. We have to look at the bigger picture here of qualifying for finals.

“Our 21s group have got seven players who’ve been promoted to the senior team, we brought up a couple of players from the 19s. The 19s have brought up a couple of players like Kevin Zeffi and Sam Curtis from the 17s. So it has that domino effect and it’s a fantastic experience for players like Evan Ferguson and Ollie O’Neill, scoring a goal. They’ll learn from this, big time.”

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