“I believe we've got the players who will get us to the European Finals”

By Stephen Leonard

REPUBLIC of Ireland Under 21 manager Jim Crawford insists he and his players will be going all out to qualify for the European Championship Finals and qualify in style.

The Tallaght man, who took over as manager from Stephen Kenny towards the tail-end of the last campaign, will lead his side into a new European quest when they take on Bosnia and Herzegovina on September 3 before travelling to Luxembourg four days later.

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Tallaght man Jim Crawford is looking forward to his first full European Championship qualification campaign as Republic of Ireland Under 21 manager and firmly believes his players have the quality to reach the Finals

And with the team having just missed out on a first ever Euro Under 21 qualification following a heart-breaking loss to Iceland in Tallaght Stadium back in November, Crawford and his charges will certainly have the bit between their teeth as they continue their long build-up which will hopefully include a friendly in March and a trip to the Toulon Tournament in June.

“This year the vision won't change” Crawford told The Echo. “I believe we've got the players who will get us to the European Finals.

“I want to qualify in style. I want to get fans in their droves through the turnstiles in Tallaght Stadium and fill the place out and then leave the games saying 'You know what, that was a fantastic performance, great football, great to see the likes of Nathan Collins, Conor Coventry, whether it's Jonathan Afolabi or Mipo [Odubeko] or whoever, and talking about them.

“I've a deep passion to develop players and I firmly believe that playing in major tournaments at this level will act as a catalyst with regards to their development.

“It was disappointing that we didn't get to the Finals last year, but I think you’ve got to take a step back from the campaign and say 'Ok, what does success look like?’”

“There were nine players that got involved with the senior team from the Under 21s in one year which is remarkable. Seeing those players passing through the 21s environment into the senior team is certainly success.

“Also success is moving from Pot Four to Pot Three for the draw so our ranking has gone up which is huge.

“Yes it was disappointing not qualifying, but you look at those kind of things and you say 'Yes, it has been a productive campaign’ he said.

Crawford and the Under 21s will be facing off against some familiar foes with Italy, Sweden and Luxembourg- teams they met in the last campaign- having again been drawn with them in Group F.

“Italy, they're the Number One seeds in the group and they've got a huge pool of players to choose from, but I'm kind of surmising that those players who played against us in Italy last October would be there or there abouts with the squad.

“But we've got a good understanding of what they have and, look, I think we've got about 11 players who played in the last campaign, but not many of those 11, apart from the likes of Gavin Bazunu and Conor Coventry, have played significant parts in the last campaign.

“So I don't think they'll know too much about us, but, in saying that, I've no doubt they'll be able to get hold of our game in March.

“We're also looking to go to the Toulon tournament in June so they'll get an understanding of our players.

“But Italy, they're a really talented group of players and they're the favourites for the group. I do think it's a great opportunity to pit our wits against that level of talent and also for the general public to come to Tallaght Stadium and see the quality that Italy have and also the quality that we have too.

“It's hugely important [for us to have a crowd] and it was another part of our strategic plan when we were negotiating the fixtures, that we wanted to get our home fixtures as far away as possible so that we can get fans back in.

“I've experienced it before with the 21s and the fans when we played against Italy, when we played against Sweden, what an impact the fans had and the buzz around Tallaght Stadium that night was fantastic, so hopefully we can repeat that.

“But first and foremost, it's about getting the right results before those games in November against Italy and Sweden.

“That would set us up nicely for a huge window in November against the Number One and the Number Two seeds.

“It's my first campaign so I think it's about bedding down the way we want to play with the 21s.

“It's setting up our team to play the possession-based game that Stephen Kenny has spoken about, allowing our players to be confident on the ball.

“It's about me encouraging the players to express themselves on the pitch with that level of confidence and enjoyment that represents what we've been working towards from Under 15s up.

“I've no doubt that this style of football and this belief will get the public excited and hopefully increase the volume of supporters every time we play in Tallaght Stadium where the general public do have an opportunity to see the talent that we do have.

“It's a challenge and this whole paradox with the Under 21s role is that you want your players to play well, but if they're playing very well they can get bumped up to the senior team.

“So that's the challenge of the role and if they do get bumped up, the door is open for more players to prove themselves at this level” Crawford pointed    out.

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