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'I said it to his face, it made me feel proud'

Ireland U21s boss Jim Crawford says he is delighted with Jason Knight’s promotion to the senior team.

Jason Knight has today been called up to the Ireland senior team by Stephen Kenny.
Jason Knight has today been called up to the Ireland senior team by Stephen Kenny.
Image: Simon Stacpoole/INPHO

IRELAND U21 BOSS Jim Crawford paid tribute to Jason Knight following the youngster’s promotion to the national side’s senior team.

The 19-year-old midfielder, who made his senior debut against Finland last month, was again given the call by Stephen Kenny for the national team’s upcoming matches after a couple of players were forced to withdraw.

In one sense, it is bad news for Crawford, as the Derby star will not be available for the team’s upcoming qualifiers, which could see the U21 team reach a first-ever major tournament provided they pick up six points against Iceland and Luxembourg.

Nevertheless, the former Newcastle player says the pride he feels at seeing Knight’s elevation to the senior team overrides any sense of disappointment with his squad losing a key player.

“Look, somebody of Jason’s quality, you’d love to have around, but I had a discussion with Jason about it and I’m absolutely delighted for him.

“We go back a long way, myself and Jason Knight. I was with him with the Emerging Talent and he came into the 18s when I was head coach there and every time he’s come in, he’s been enthusiastic, he’s brought quality and he’s just a pleasure to work with.

I’m proud of him. He’s made the jump and I think ultimately to see him getting that senior cap, it’s a real proud moment for me. I said it to his face, it made me feel proud and I’m absolutely delighted for him.

“It does definitely out-weigh any sort of disappointment at my end with regards to the 21s, because ultimately you want to see these players progress — that’s part of my job.

“The bigger picture is to go and do well at your club and get as many senior caps as you possibly can.”

On Knight’s departure from the U21 set-up, team captain Conor Masterson added: “For Jay, it’s been brilliant. He’s been doing great with Derby and he deserves it. Good luck to him and obviously the other lads that are there.

“It just shows what Stephen is doing. He knew us from the 21s, so he knows what we’re capable of, and he’s bringing us up.

But I also think the team we have right now is still good enough and the talent in the squad is good enough to beat Iceland and Luxembourg.”

Masterson and his colleagues go into these games knowing two wins would likely be enough to see them reach next year’s tournament in Hungary and Slovenia.

“It’d be unbelievable,” the QPR man said. “It’s a long campaign because of Covid, but the journey we’ve had from the start until now has been unbelievable.

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“I think individually and as a team, we’ve all grown. Myself and other players are getting into first teams. Other players are going up to the first team with Ireland as well.

“If we can cap it off this week by going through to the Euros, it’d be brilliant.”

Masterson admits it has been a frustrating season at club level, having made just two appearances in the Championship after a first-team breakthrough last year.

There are a number of players in the squad in a similar boat, with game time in short supply, however the 22-year-old centre-back does not see it as being an issue for the upcoming games.

“We don’t worry about that. We know the talent that’s in the squad. I don’t think that’s a factor. There are top players here. They wouldn’t be at the clubs they are if they weren’t.”

And regardless of whether or not Ireland qualify ultimately, Crawford believes there are plenty of positives that can be taken from a campaign that has seen a number of players already graduate to the senior team.

Facts don’t lie. There are six players since the opening game against Luxembourg who have been promoted to the senior squad.

“Do you measure success that way and say do you know what, we’ve six players who have now gained international experience? Or is it about seeing what’s coming in behind those players? 

“I think it’s been an unbelievable campaign so far, but you really want to qualify and become part of the finals in March, and I think these players here deserve that, the amount of work that they’ve done.

“Every time they come into camp, we’ve never had to crack the whip with regards the intensity of training or how hard they work in training, so it’s something I think they deserve as a group.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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