JIM Crawford admits that next week’s game in Italy could be the biggest game in the Republic of Ireland’s history at U21 level – or could also be a dead rubber – after his side closed off the home part of their qualifying group campaign with a 3-1 win over Montenegro.
oals from Will Smallbone, Liam Kerrigan and Tyreik Wright powered Ireland into a 3-0 lead with 23 minutes to play and while Montenegro did pull a goal back, an Irish win, the fourth in a row, was never in doubt. Next week’s qualifier away to Italy could see Ireland secure a playoff spot as runners-up or even win the group, depending on how Italy fare away to Sweden on Thursday, but Crawford is happy to await his side’s fate.
“I’m exceptionally proud of the players. I think we showed today it’s a squad game,” said Crawford.
“I think the easy thing would be the same XI starts that played against Bosnia but we just felt we needed to freshen it up and it shows the group that was out, Liam Kerrigan comes in, fantastic performance.
“Again I am proud of Liam, proud of the boys, proud of the staff, the amount of work that goes on, that the players don’t realise the amount of work the staff do to get camps right. For me, we’ll see how Thursday goes and see what we’ll have to do in the game against Italy. If it’s a dead rubber, you might throw in a couple of lads that deserve a chance.
“I’m going to give them three days off and then we’ll have a four-day lead-in to the game in Ascoli. They deserve it. We’ll get onto our strength and conditioning coach Eoin Clerkin, who will give them a light sprinkle of work. They will come in on Friday and we will know exactly what is on the table for us. We’re looking forward to it. Our dressing room is buzzing,” he added.
He hailed the impact of debutant Eiran Cashin, who claimed an assist for the second goal, and justified the hard work put in behind the scenes to get Cashin’s eligibility over the line, after red tape had delayed his competitive debut, with his passport only secured last week.
“Yeah, I think what he brings to training in terms of intensity and aggression and leadership, he brings that into training and he trains the way he plays. He was certainly worth it. He’s as proud as anybody putting on the jersey. He had 10 or 11 family members who came today to see his debut and he didn’t disappoint. He is in a nice place now with his football,” added Crawford.