New Republic of Ireland U21 manager Jim Crawford.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
AT THE RISK of being accused of hyperbole, 2019 could be described as a year of unprecedented progress for the Republic of Ireland at U21 level.
Following his appointment as manager at a grade which has historically produced scant success, Stephen Kenny guided his side to the top of a European Championship qualifying group that they entered as fourth seeds.
There are still three games remaining, but Ireland have already picked up five wins – something an Irish U21 team has never managed before in a qualifying campaign.
After his immediate promotion to the senior job was announced last weekend, Kenny won’t get the opportunity to complete his mission with the U21s.
Ireland’s bid to qualify for the European Championships for the first time is now in the hands of Jim Crawford, who was a member of Kenny’s coaching staff.
Crawford, who has recently coached alongside Alan Reynolds at League of Ireland Premier Division club Waterford, will be assisted by former Ireland defender John O’Shea.
Born to Irish parents in Chicago, Crawford lived in Dublin from the age of eight and was an Irish U21 international midfielder during his own playing career.
As he told FAI TV this week, the 46-year-old is keen to continue the progress made by Stephen Kenny, which yielded a couple of comprehensive wins over Sweden and a draw against Italy.
Source: FAI TV/YouTube
“I’ve learnt a lot from him, what he brings to the manager’s role with regards to him creating excellent environments for players to go and express themselves,” said Crawford.
“Everybody knows he’s about possession-based football, players going to express themselves, be creative on the ball and really you need the right environment to have that as your output.
“All this is underpinned with a culture of excellence – the staff that he brings in, the demands he gives the staff and the high standards that he expects.
“It’s something that I’ve definitely taken on board and I look forward to implementing everything that I’ve learned from Stephen.”
After being spotted as a teenager while playing for Bushy Park side Terenure Rangers, Crawford was signed by Bohemians and won the PFAI Young Player of the Year award in 1994.
Newcastle United, who were legitimate Premier League contenders at the time, paid £75,000 to bring him to England, but first-team opportunities were scarce.
Crawford had spent a couple of years on the books at St James’ Park by the time he made two appearances for the club under Kenny Dalglish in the space of six days in March 1997.
After being introduced as a substitute for Les Ferdinand in a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool, he came off the bench to replace David Ginola in a 4-0 home win over Coventry City.
Crawford at Newcastle United.
Source: EMPICS Sport
Crawford’s time at Newcastle was hindered by injuries, although he’s pragmatic when reflecting on his prospects of establishing himself in the team.
“Just when you started seeing a little bit of light, in comes David Batty,” he told The42 in an interview last July. “The pressure was always on. You had Lee Clark, who was a fantastic player. I’m looking at him, saying: Right, Jim. That’s the level.
“Lee probably would have felt hard done by that David Batty went straight in, because Lee was playing exceptionally well at the time. Lee was on the bench and I’m looking at it then, going: Right, Newcastle is probably too big of a club here and you have to go elsewhere.”
Loan moves to Rotherham United and Dundee United were followed by a stint at Reading, before Crawford returned to the League of Ireland to join Shelbourne in 2000.
During a hugely successful spell at Tolka Park, he became a four-time Premier Division winner and was a member of the Shels side that advanced to a tie against Deportivo La Coruna in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.