'He's such a talented goalkeeper... I'm delighted for him'

Ireland U21 boss Jim Crawford has backed Gavin Bazunu to shine after his call-up to the senior side.

Gavin Bazunu (file pic).
Gavin Bazunu (file pic).
Image: Hrach Khachatryan/INPHO

IRELAND U21 BOSS Jim Crawford has backed Gavin Bazunu to shine, after the youngster earned his first call-up to the Ireland senior side yesterday.

The 19-year-old goalkeeper previously worked with Crawford at U21 level and has enjoyed an impressive rise of late.

The youngster came through the Shamrock Rovers academy and made his senior debut with the Hoops, before officially joining Manchester City in 2019 for a reported fee of £420,000.

The Dubliner has impressed on loan in League One this season, lining out regularly for Rochdale, and his call-up to the senior team comes as little surprise, after regular number one Darren Randolph was ruled out through injury.

Caoimhin Kelleher is expected to feature against Serbia, though the Liverpool youngster is a slight injury doubt, meaning Mark Travers (AFC Bournemouth) or Kieran O’Hara (Burton Albion) could also potentially feature, though Bazunu is the only member of that quartet who has been playing regular senior football of late.

Crawford has worked with Bazunu and Kelleher at U21 level, and is confident both will be ready if called upon in Serbia.

He also did not rule out the possibility of Bazunu returning to the U21 set-up once Randolph is fit again.

“The thing is with Gavin, he’s such a talented goalkeeper, he really is. You’ve always got to expect that if there are any injury or suspension issues with the senior team, Gavin will get the call-up. I sort of half expected it with Darren Randolph being injured the last couple of weeks. So I’m delighted for Gavin and could say: ‘I’m very proud of you. It’s well deserved.’ The thing is it’s really Stephen’s call after that. If he does play and does unbelievably well, which I’ve no doubt he will and Stephen keeps him, Stephen keeps him.

“The bigger picture here is about developing Gavin to become the best goalkeeper he can be. If that’s with the first team, fantastic. If it means coming back to the 21s, and some big games to help us qualify for the European Championships, so be it.”

On Kelleher and Bazunu, he added: “They certainly won’t let you down, but Mark Travers is there too. I don’t know who Stephen is going to pick. I know Caoimhin has a little bit of an issue at the minute, but I’d imagine he might be okay. After that, it’s who is doing well. I think they’ve only got two training sessions before the other games.

“Caoimhin is in a really good place, the way he has performed with Liverpool. He’s getting closer to a starting berth at Liverpool and he’s an immense talent, he really is. I hope he’s okay for the game and kicks on his career, because Caoimhin, like Gavin, they’re great pros. It’s a position that we’re quite strong with regards to the senior team, that’s for sure.”

Given the number of players that have been promoted to the senior squad, Crawford’s own U21 group inevitably is filled with new faces.

There were 14 uncapped players in the 22-man squad announced yesterday, ahead of the friendly away to Wales on 26 March.

“I’m looking forward to working with them as the staff are too,” Crawford said. “They’re talented players. Andrew Omobamidele has done exceptionally well at Norwich. He was in the first team for a spell where he came on and made a brief appearance.  

“A lot of real mouth-watering talent there. Louie Watson has made a few appearances with Derby County. Wayne Rooney and Shay Given have both been speaking exceptionally highly of him. Even off the matchday pitch he’s been excellent, and that’s always good to hear.”

One player in particular that stands out is Tallaght-born attacker Ademipo Odubeko, who has featured twice for West Ham in the FA Cup this season, including last month’s tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

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“We’re all aware of how talented he is. I certainly am because I remember Mipo playing with St Joseph’s Boys. I’ll never forget, he played in an All-Ireland game against College Corinthians up in Jackman Park. He scored a fantastic goal and the way he celebrated, he was so passionate about it, scoring a goal in the cup final, and that was the first time that he caught my eye.

“I’m looking forward to working with him and we’ll see what he can do. At the end of the day, he’s still a young lad, but with enormous potential. It’s about us, the coaching staff, working with that potential going forward.”

Crawford also reserved high praise for another new squad member, 19-year-old Dubliner Shane Flynn, who earlier this week signed a new contract at Leicester City.

“He’s been doing well with Leicester. We get to see all the 23s games via our Hudl accounts. We develop relationships with the club’s analysts and they’ll send us over the games. He’s done really well, playing a left wing-back-type role. He came into the Irish U18s set-up as a wide left.  He did very well for us then. So he’s somebody I’ve always had good hopes for and that’s been endorsed by Brendan Rodgers offering him a new contract. I was delighted for him. He’s a fantastic kid. He loves football and he’s an excellent professional.”

Crawford confirmed that Will Smallbone, Nathan Collins, Michael Obafemi and Joe Hodge were all unavailable due to injury, while he had words of encouragement for players such as Sheffield Wednesday’s Alex Hunt and Brandon Kavanagh, the Shamrock Rovers midfielder on loan at Bray, who did not make the cut.

“You have to remember that of the very first squad we got together against Luxembourg, Jason Knight wasn’t in it. Now all of a sudden he’s a senior player. If you’re not in this squad, it’s not about being disappointed, it’s about working as hard as you can and the breakthrough will be made sooner rather than later.”

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Paul Fennessy

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