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U21s unlikely to recall Irish senior players for future big games

Jim Crawford has suggested he will stick with the players in the current squad.

The Ireland U21 team (file pic).
The Ireland U21 team (file pic).
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

JIM CRAWFORD has suggested Ireland U21s are unlikely to recall players from the senior squad for some crucial future games.

Should they beat Italy tomorrow, the Irish team will qualify automatically for the European Championships, which will take place in the summer of 2023.

But if the Azzurri avoid defeat in the Stadio Cino e Lillo Del Duca, Ascoli (kick-off: 4.30pm Irish time, live on RTÉ 2), the Boys in Green will face a two-legged playoff in September as they attempt to qualify for the tournament, which will be co-hosted by Romania and Georgia.

Gavin Bazunu, Troy Parrott, Nathan Collins, Festy Ebosele, Jason Knight, Michael Obafemi, Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah and Andrew Omobamidele are among the players still eligible for the 21s, but they have been picked for the senior squad in more recent times.

But whether Ireland reach the playoffs or the tournament proper, Crawford suggested he is likely to remain loyal to the individuals that got them this far.

When it was put to him, the Irish boss said: “There’s been nothing said to me, no discussions have been had. For me, the way I’d see it now is the group that got us to this position, second place in the group, they deserve a chance and each and every one of them have been excellent in everything they’ve done as regards team meetings, training sessions, performances when it mattered.

“For me, there’s a little bit of bigger thinking on our part. We brought in Tayo [Adaramola] from Crystal Palace, Joe Hodge, Darragh Burns and Sinclair Armstrong. Younger lads, you give them a taste of competitive football — the environment, the way we train, and what’s expected of them. So they may be players that, when the finals come next June, could play a huge role in that. So with regards to players coming back, I don’t know, but certainly, we’ve got some really good players coming from behind who were in Tom Mohan’s squad there recently. So we’re in good shape.”

With the exception of Walsall’s Oisin McEntee, who is out with a dislocated shoulder, the 21s have a clean bill for tomorrow’s Italy clash.

Crawford is looking forward to the occasion as he hopes to guide Ireland to a first-ever qualification for a major tournament at U21 level.

“It’s a fantastic achievement getting into the playoffs but our demands won’t stop at a playoff place. We’ve got a real opportunity to go and top the group. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a real challenge because Italy are the best team in the group by a distance. They did draw with Sweden twice, but they’re a very good team.

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“The amount of chances they created on Thursday [against Sweden] shows the potential they have getting into goalscoring opportunities, but it’s a great [reflection on] all the players, the staff, how hard we worked.

“Because there was a spell where we drew with Luxembourg and got beaten by Montenegro. It’s important to bounce back from those types of games and we certainly did. That shows the character that’s in the group and the boys stuck at it and they showed real resilience and an unbelievable desire to win games.”

Ireland will be hoping to avenge a 2-0 defeat suffered against their rivals in Tallaght earlier in the campaign, while a point will be enough for the Italians to qualify. So does Crawford believe their opponents will play the match in a more defensive manner than usual?

“Against Sweden, they certainly weren’t cautious. They went all out to get that win to win the group. So it’s going to be an interesting tactical battle, that’s for sure, to see are they going to sit off us and try to catch us on the counter-attack or will they go and press us high. I don’t know, I can’t answer that.

“All I do know is they’ve got real quality, they really do, a lot of talented players who are playing in Serie A, Serie B. So it’s going to be a great challenge for us and something our group of players will learn from. What a position to be in, to go here where we know that we can win and we’ll top the group, which would be an unbelievable achievement.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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