THE Republic of Ireland U21s will return to Turner’s Cross this weekend for the first time since 2009 for a friendly against Iceland, with kick-off set for 4pm.
It will be a new beginning for manager Jim Crawford, as he has to start again with the squad after losing the play-off round of the European Championship last September to Israel on penalties.
He will be working with an entirely new squad, a group that will be hoping to impress the manager as he finalises his plans for the upcoming Euro 2025 qualifiers, a tournament that is set to get underway this autumn.
Crawford has called up players that represent all levels of the global football pyramid, including two from Cork City in the League of Ireland.
Midfielder Matt Healy will put on the green jersey once again after previously playing for the Under-20s in a defeat to an Irish Amateur Selection last year at Home Farm in Dublin.
Jimmy Corcoran will earn his first U21 cap against Iceland, and this will join his mementos from lining out with the U17s and U19s. The squad also contains goalkeepers Tiernan Brooks and Josh Keeley, who line out for Notts County and Tottenham Hotspur.
In front of them will be a group of players that represent a diverse range of clubs from across the continent.
Two European sides with representatives are Udinese and Wolfsburg, who have Festy Ebosele and Anselmo Garcia MacNulty in the squad.
Ebosele rose to prominence while playing for Derby County under Wayne Rooney, and he moved to Italy in the summer of 2022.
He has made nine appearances so far for Udinese, who are currently eighth in Serie A and dreaming of European qualification for the first time in ten years.
Garcia MacNulty is on loan at NAC Breda in the second tier of the Dutch football pyramid. The Spanish-born defender has represented Ireland at every age group, starting with the U15s.
Two Celtic players are included in the panel; Bosun Lawal and Johnny Kenny. Lawal started out with St Kevin's Boys and Bohemians before moving to Watford, where he was named Academy Player of the Year for 2020-21.
Lawal signed for Celtic that summer and he has made one senior appearance, as a substitute against Greenock Morton in the Scottish Cup. Kenny is currently on loan at Shamrock Rovers and he has scored one goal in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Joe Hodge is one of the few players to be retained from the last qualification campaign. He has already made five appearances for the Premier League side, and two for the Irish U21s.
Ireland played Iceland at U21 level during the qualifiers for the 2021 European Championships and they lost both games by an aggregate score of 3-1.
If the friendly is a success, the manager revealed that there is a real possibility that the upcoming U21 qualifiers will be played in Cork.
“If everything goes well with regard to prep, if everything goes well with attendances, we think there is a possibility that the campaign might be held in Turner’s Cross, which would be great,” Crawford recently told.
Everything leads to Sunday afternoon when the Irish U21s step out at Turner’s Cross after being away from Cork for 14 years.