Jim Crawford says Ireland ‘owe’ Cork an Under-21 game 

Jim Crawford says Ireland ‘owe’ Cork an Under-21 game 

Republic of Ireland U21 manager Jim Crawford poses for a portrait ahead of his side's international friendly match against Iceland on March 26 in Turners Cross, Cork. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IRELAND U21 manager Jim Crawford wants to use the upcoming U21s friendly against Iceland to give back to the people of Cork after years of developing senior internationals like Caoimhin Kelleher, John Egan, and Adam Idah.

The coach recently told The Echo that the game is the realisation of a long term goal by the team, and he cannot wait to pay back the people of Cork.

“I’m feeling very excited, I certainly know that sport is really taken serious in this county,” he said.

“With regard to football, you look at the footballers they’ve produced; Roy Keane and Denis Irwin. 

"The amount of senior Irish internationals that have come from Cork at the minute; Alan Browne, Adam Idah, Caoimhin (Kelleher), Conor Hourihane, (John) Egan. It is certainly a long list of players playing with the senior team.

“I think we sort of owe it to the county to come here and play an U21s game.

“It was always floating in our minds as staff that we need to come down to Cork and showcase the talent that we have at U21 level to the people in the Munster area because they deserve it with the fruits of what they have developed with regard to sports people."

As the team get ready to come down to Turner’s Cross, Cork City are back playing in the League of Ireland Premier Division after two years away. They were promoted as First Division winners last season and people from all across the county have come out to support the team. 

The coach is more than aware of what is happening and he wants to use the friendly to celebrate the team’s recent achievements.

“I came down here for a few weeks ago. There was a presentation from Cork City. 

UEFA EURO Under 21 Championship Qualifier, Tallaght Stadium
UEFA EURO Under 21 Championship Qualifier, Tallaght Stadium

"Players, both men and women, were presented with their jerseys and the Football For All team. I just got a real feel for the buzz about the place,” he said.

“In fairness to Colin Healy, he’s worked wonders with Cork City. That feeds into and inspired young players to go and attend games in Turner’s Cross and hopefully that will spill into the U21s when we come here in a couple of weeks’ time.” 

Crawford will be hoping to use this game to look at players ahead of the European Championship qualifiers that are set to get underway in September. 

Every international cycle is a new start for the coach as he has to work with almost an entirely new squad of players.

This time it will be different as his team are picking themselves after a penalty shoot-out defeat to Israel in the play-off round for the 2023 European Championships. 

This was the closest that Ireland have ever gotten to reaching the tournament finals and Crawford wants to emulate the culture of that team with his new students as they get ready for another qualification tournament.

“You do a lot of work with the group of players that you have then all of a sudden the cycle ends and you have a new group of player,” he said. “You only have to look at our last campaign. To get to a play-off is a fantastic achievement by the players, for how hard they worked.

“I think one thing we developed with the last group of players was a real identity and a real love to represent your country. 

"We’ll have the same sort of plan with this group that is coming up, to make sure that after every international window they want to come back for more. I think that is important. 

"I think that runs through all the age groups that we have.

“When we played Wales at the start of the last campaign in a friendly game there were only two players that played in that game and the play-offs. 

"It just shows the real turnaround of players that you have during a campaign. 

"It’s not necessary that the players who are picked in this first window will be the group that are involved in the last game of the campaign. Everybody has a chance and the challenge is for the staff is to make sure that everybody feels apart of the journey."

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