Rep of Ireland U21 v Italy U21
Turner’s Cross, Tuesday, 5.30pm
Jim Crawford insists he has to look at the bigger picture after Stephen Kenny was criticised for calling rising Republic of Ireland star Andy Moran into the senior squad at the under-21s’ expense.
Didi Hamann labelled Kenny’s decision as “inexcusable” as the Blackburn Rovers loanee sat on the bench for the dead-rubber defeat to the Netherlands while Crawford’s under-21s lost a Euro qualifier to Norway the night before.
RTÉ pundit Hamann said the greater interest of Irish football lay in prioritising under-21 qualification to a first-ever European Championship.
“That’s Didi’s perspective on things,” said Crawford. “A player of Andy Moran’s ability, he’s always going to be there or thereabouts with the senior team.
“In one way, you’re hoping that he stays but for the player himself, I broke the news to him, he was certainly overjoyed.
“To lose anybody of Andy’s quality, any team would feel it, but the bigger picture is it gives players at under-21s level an opportunity to show that they can play at this stage. It also gives Andy a chance to bed himself into the senior team and I’ve no doubt he’ll play against New Zealand.
“I’m not picking the team, that’s Stephen’s job, but I certainly think he’ll gain his first international cap.
“He’s been excellent but as soon as Andy was gone, as ruthless as it sounds, he’s gone from us. We need to concentrate, we got Adam Murphy in, and we need to get our heads down.”
Ireland are third in Group A but just one point behind leaders Italy. With the Under-20 World Cup runners-up visiting Turner’s Cross on Tuesday (5.30pm), there are plenty of senior squad members who could make a difference.
But the nature of Crawford’s job is to prepare for players being promoted to the higher level.
“You have a plan A, B, C, and D in international football, particularly with the 21s,” he said. “Of course, you’d like to enter games with players who are still eligible to play with the 21s, whether that’s Andrew Omobamidele, Troy Parrott, Festy [Ebosele], Andy Moran, but it is what it is.
“The whole thing of 21s football is you’re preparing players for senior international games. Look, we were prepared and I think that was somewhat justified in the performance against Norway.
“Okay, the result [a 3-2 defeat] wasn’t what we wanted. Conceding two goals from set plays, one of them second phase, the other giving away a penalty, certainly isn’t ideal, and the third one was us switching off in our press fairly high up the pitch.
“The players involved in those instances were disappointed but we’re here to help them and hopefully they learn from that. That is, in essence, the 21s. You help them grow as players and as individuals.”
Crawford also revealed that contact remains ongoing with fit-again Tom Cannon. The Leicester City striker made a goalscoring U21 debut for Ireland last March but hasn’t played since amid interest from England.
“I spoke to Tom but it was more talking about his stress fracture,” said Crawford.
“No, there’s been no commitment but there’s still conversations there with him. All I can say from our perspective is we’re very interested in his progress at Leicester.”