Republic of Ireland Under-21s Manager Jim Crawford has paid tribute to his class of 2022 Under-21 Internationals after they narrowly missed out on qualification to the European Championships.Crawford’s group had already made history by becoming the first U21 side to reach a Play-Off but their hopes of reaching the Championships ended on Tuesday evening following a 1-3 defeat on penalties in Tel Aviv. Of the current squad, Conor Coventry, Lee O’Connor, Brian Maher, Aaron Connolly, Andy Lyons, Eiran Cashin, Jake O’Brien, Joe Redmond, Dawson Devoy, David Odumosu, Will Smallbone, Ross Tierney, Joshua Kayode, Tyreik Wright, Finn Azaz and Adam O’Reilly are all ineligible to play in the next U21s campaign. This is in addition to Gavin Kilkenny, Oisin McEntee, Mark McGuinness, Luke McNicholas, Colm Whelan, Liam Kerrigan, Conor Noss, Joel Bagan, Will Ferry and David Harrington who have all been key members of the squad throughout the campaign.
Conor Coventry first matched then set the all-time record for appearances at U21 level with 28 caps. His teammate Lee O’Connor earned 26 caps, placing him second behind Coventry for all-time appearances and O’Connor also holds the record for most appearances at Ireland underage level with 78 caps.Brian Maher, who earned 15 caps at this age grade, also set a new record in the second leg against Israel with six clean sheets, the most by any U21 goalkeeper in a single campaign. Looking back at the campaign Jim Crawford said:
“Reflecting on the campaign, I always look at what we could always do better but for me the highs far outweigh the lows. A first play-off at U21s level, then you look at Conor Coventry gaining record caps for the Ireland U21s and Lee O’Connor now second in that chart. Then you have Brian Maher with a record number of cleansheets in a campaign – they are great moments you reflect on.“There are certain players who are now finished with Under-21s football and the next step is the senior team and I wish them nothing but the best in international football. There are a lot of really good characters leaving us, which is a pity because I would have loved to have extended our time together and got to the finals. I think it’s a measure of the bond of this group that players who were not in the squad were messaging us with support and then lifting the players after Tuesday – it’s a special group.” Speaking about the players' international journey, Crawford added: “In addition to the great work players have received at club and schoolboy level, I think credit also has to go to their underage international coaches, Jason Donohue, Paul Osam, Colin O’Brien, and Tom Mohan. They have helped develop these players for the international stage. We have the same football principles so that when they come into the U21s there are no surprises – the players know our expectations. You see Tom Mohan’s team reaching the Elite Phase and that’s important as it keeps that group together longer and that can only help their development at international level.” On the next generation of U21s international, Jim said:
“Myself and the staff had a design and strategy to bring in younger lads that are going to be instrumental in the next campaign. “We had Bosun Lawal in with us last year in Marbella. We brought in Andy Moran - who has high potential, Joe Hodge played a big part in these play-off games, Ollie O’Neill has been a significant player for us and kicked us off on that winning streak that helped us get to the play-offs. Anselmo Garcia MacNulty has been involved and he’s going to be huge for us in the next campaign and Sean Roughan comes on in extra-time in a play-off game and doesn’t look out of place. I’m excited for these players.“Any of these players involved have earned their place, we’re not giving away U21s caps to anyone, you have to earn them and they have deserved their call-ups. You see Evan Ferguson, a player who played with us since 16-years-of-age, feature all campaign and he’s rewarded with a goal against Israel. He and Mipo Odubeko have that opportunity to progress with us next campaign and I’m very much looking forward to working with them again.”
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The Under-21s Manager also saved special thanks to his backroom team and the fans.He added: “My staff have been excellent all campaign and I want to thank them all for their hard work and dedication in often challenging moments throughout the campaign. They deserve so much credit. “I also must say thank you to the amazing crowd at Tallaght Stadium last Friday. Our biggest crowd of the campaign and one of the biggest U21 crowds in our history. The work that went on behind the scenes to achieve that crowd was a heart-warming to see, especially when you saw the ticket sales going up in the thousands, week on week. “From the development officers who promoted the games to the ticketing team and more thank you for helping create the perfect send off for the team ahead of the second leg.” Republic of Ireland Under-21 Caps (2000-2001 born) Conor Coventry | 28 Caps | 3 Goals Lee O’Connor | 26 Caps | 1 goal Gavin Kilkenny | 19 caps Brian Maher | 15 Caps | 6 cleansheets Tyreik Wright | 15 caps | 3 goals Joshua Kayode 13 caps | 2 goals Mark McGuinness | 12 caps | 1 goal Jake O’Brien | 11 caps Conor Noss | 11 caps Aaron Connolly | 9 caps | 1 goal Ross Tierney | 9 caps | 2 goals Joel Bagan | 8 caps Will Ferry | 8 caps Will Smallbone | 7 caps | 3 goals Dawson Devoy | 7 caps Oisin McEntee | 7 caps Andy Lyons | 6 caps Eiran Cashin | 4 caps Colm Whelan | 3 caps | 1 goal Liam Kerrigan | 3 caps | 1 goal Joe Redmond | 2 caps Finn Azaz | 1 cap