Jim Crawford sums up why qualifying for the Euros would be so special for Ireland’s U21s

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Reporting by Gary Connaughton from Tallaght Stadium

The Irish Under-21 side entered this international window knowing that history could potentially be in sight.

Set to play the final three games of their Euro qualifying campaign, taking nine points from those matches could be enough to secure Ireland’s place in the final for the first time. That is unlikely to be decided until the trip to Italy in the final group game, although a play-off spot could already be sealed by then.

Wins in their two home games over this bank holiday weekend will likely be enough to seal at least second place, with the 3-0 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina last night being the perfect start to this international window.

It was not a vintage performance from Ireland at times, although the way they always came out as comfortable winners would have been a huge boost for their manager. The goals also came from two hugely talented players who hadn’t necessarily been involved in this campaign for various reasons, with a Mipo Odubeko strike sandwiched between a Will Smallbone brace.

Jim Crawford delighted with the prospect of qualifying for the Euros

Speaking after the match, Jim Crawford summed up how much qualifying for this tournament would mean for Irish football. That would be particularly impressive considering they are without a number of eligible players who make it into the senior squad, although it has meant the U21s have a more stable squad throughout the campaign.

Players know that we are about to experience something extraordinary here. Our small country could progress to the play-offs or maybe even automatic qualification on June 14 would be magnificent, especially considering that we have nine U21 players in the senior squad.

I know they have a few injuries a minute with Andrew Omobamidele, Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah, but it shows the strength in depth we have at this age group…

It will definitely help them get into Monday’s game. It was 3-0 in international football, and Monday’s game is hugely important for Irish football. If we can qualify with this group for the finals in Romania and Georgia, it would be an incredible achievement for this group of players…

It would be very difficult to create an environment or a culture if you had players at every window. What happened is that the guys who were promoted stayed there, it gave us the chance to form the group that is here.

It wouldn’t surprise me if over the next two years some of these guys were plugged into the senior team, that’s their ambition. For now, you can tell when you talk to them that they want to qualify for this. Come Monday we will see a better performance and hopefully three points and closer to the final.

Monday’s match against Montenegro is likely to be a tougher test. Ireland suffered a 2-1 defeat when the two sides met in Podgorica in October, conceding two goals in the opening ten minutes before Conor Coventry missed a penalty to score a late game.

However, Crawford’s side appear to have improved considerably since then and added a handful of new faces to the squad. Will Smallbone is the leader of them.

The Southampton man netted an impressive brace last night, with the player now hoping to put his recent injury nightmare behind him. Crawford believes he has the talent to be a very important player for club and country in the future.

Will is a really silky footballer. He’s an athlete, he can play, he can see the passes, now he’s shown he can score goals. He could have scored a hat-trick tonight, we were laughing about it inside.

Will is a huge addition to the team, he always has been. He unfortunately missed in the last window. What he brings to the group is this assurance in possession. Even Will sometimes got caught in those pockets where he was taking a throw-in and it got cut off when he wasn’t used to the intensity of the games.

I was hoping he would play a few more games towards the end of the season with Southampton, that didn’t happen, I think he came on in the last game in injury time. He has a huge future, really, because of his temper and ability.

A win on Monday night would put Ireland in a brilliant position to qualify for this tournament, a remarkable feat considering the amount of talent missing from this squad.

SEE ALSO: After the wound from hell, Will Smallbone took the first steps towards healing

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