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Dublin: 5°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

'He's a fantastic individual with real talent, real potential'

Ireland U21s boss Jim Crawford has heaped praise on Jason Knight after his recent stint in the senior set-up.

Jason Knight already has one senior Ireland cap to his name.
Jason Knight already has one senior Ireland cap to his name.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRELAND U21 BOSS Jim Crawford heaped praise on Jason Knight after including the youngster in the squad for the team’s final two Euros qualifiers against Iceland and Luxembourg.

The 19-year-old has been a regular part of the Derby County first team for two seasons now and was rewarded last month with a call-up to a senior squad depleted by injuries and a coronavirus outbreak.

Knight subsequently made his senior debut off the bench in the 1-0 Nations League loss away to Finland.

With a greater number of players now available to Stephen Kenny, Knight has returned to the U21 set-up, having missed the crucial qualifier away to Italy, which Ireland lost 2-0.

“I’ve worked with Jason in the Emerging Talent Programme, when he was 14 or 15 years old,” Crawford said. “I had him at U18s. Now, obviously, at U21s level. One thing about him, he’s never changed.

He’s a fantastic individual with real talent, real potential. I do think that his outlook on life, his desire and determination to get where he wants to will help him go wherever he wants to in football.

“It was the situation in Italy where he got the call-up, because the senior team had issues with the coronavirus.

“On the one hand, I was absolutely delighted for him. You love to go and represent your country at senior level. But also, to leave us in the U21s was disappointing too.

“Ultimately, he’s got that senior international cap, and I know there’s going to be more to come.”

And Knight is not the only young midfielder with significant potential coming through the ranks at underage level.

Joe Hodge helped Man City win the FA Youth Cup earlier this week, with a bright future predicted for the 18-year-old. And Crawford says the talented youngster is not far off earning a place in the U21 side.

Joe Hodge is on standby. Joe Hodge is an extremely talented player. I’ve been talking to his dad a number of times before the FA Cup Youth final and what have you. Joe was with us in September up in Belfast and he is a hell of a talent. 

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“Some of the decisions in the squad are very marginal. Joe’s time will come, there’s no doubt about it. If things change within the squad, he might get that call-up, but he is on standby.”

Looking ahead to the forthcoming games, Crawford says his squad are only in a “slightly” better position than they were for the Italy encounter, which a number of key players missed.

“Troy Parrott hasn’t played. So we’ve got to mind Troy when he’s with us. Zack Elbouzedi who played unbelievably well in Italy, he had a fantastic game, he hasn’t got any competitive minutes since Italy.

“But other than that, a lot of players, Conor Masterson has played, Nathan Collins, Mark McGuinness, Gavin Bazunu has been ever-present in Rochdale at the minute. In that context, yeah. There are those couple of players, Michael Obafemi is included, where he’s played 90 minutes with the 23s. Other than that, he hasn’t.

“Certain areas of the pitch, we’re delighted with. There are other areas where we have to manage [fitness levels].”

While last month’s loss to Italy was a blow, Crawford remains optimistic that his side can pick up six points from their final two games and qualify, either by topping the group, or as one of the five best runners-up.

“Personally, it’d mean a lot. For the players, it’d be an unbelievable platform for them to go and show Europe the potential that they have.

“We’ve spoken about it and it excites the staff too. We got a snippet of it when we went and played in the Toulon tournament and the players were more than capable playing against Brazil and China — they want more of that.

“This is the window that we can make it happen. Six points, it would be an unbelievable opportunity.

“As well as that, for the country itself, to tune in in March [for the group stages] and the May/June window [for the knockout rounds] to look at the finals as well [would be great].”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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