Jim Crawford is loving the atmosphere in Tallaght as his side take on Israel in the Euro 2023 play-offs

JIM CRAWFORD is determined it won’t be so much Talmud as ‘the mood of Tallaght’ when Ireland’s Under-21s host Israel in the first leg of the Euro 2023 play-offs on Friday.

The Jobstown native will be sure to have support as the Boys in Green host their Israeli counterparts at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.

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Republic of Ireland coach Jim Crawford set the mood at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night against Israel
Republic of Ireland's Conor Coventry with Republic of Ireland manager Jim Crawford at the Tallaght Stadium in Dublin

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Republic of Ireland’s Conor Coventry with Republic of Ireland manager Jim Crawford at the Tallaght Stadium in Dublin

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Crawford, 49, who played in the Premier League with Newcastle United before enjoying a decorated League of Ireland career with Shelbourne, grew up about a mile from the site.

His family will – hopefully – be among the 8,000 in attendance at Dublin 24 as Ireland seek to make history by qualifying for the first-ever European Under-21 Championships.

Crawford is in good company with senior men’s boss Stephen Kenny, women’s captain Katie McCabe and area men’s record holder and cap holder Robbie Keane.

His Jobstown colleague Stephen Bradley is a manager at Shamrock Rovers – where Crawford was once caretaker boss – as the western suburb of Dublin flexes its muscles on the world stage.

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And Crawford revealed to SunSport his pride at having the chance to fulfill his managerial dreams in front of the support of his hometown.

He said: “It’s a proud moment. When I first took over the team and took the boys to Tallaght Stadium, it was proud.

“Stephen Kenny is also from Tallaght. You have Stephen Bradley from Jobstown, Vinny Perth from Killinarden. There are many managers around Tallaght.

“I don’t know if it’s the water there but it’s proud. I will have quite a few members of my family who will also be at the game.

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This is a long overdue opportunity for Crawford. He was Ireland Under-18 coach for three years before becoming Kenny’s Under-21 assistant in 2018.

He rose to the senior job in 2021 after Kenny took over from Mick McCarthy and guided the side through a tough campaign with home and away wins against Sweden.

Crawford added: “I love all the preparation, getting the workouts right. I know for a fact that it would take me longer to prepare a workout plan than to do it physically.

“A lot of details went into it. You watch the players and you just hope you don’t get hurt.

“I’m looking forward to the game. It’s a privilege to be involved in the game and I hope we get the right result on Friday. Supported by a packed stadium, that’s what we need.

An interesting subplot ahead of the Israel clash is a first call-up of England-born attacking midfielder Finn Azaz, on loan to Plymouth Argyle from Aston Villa.

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The goalscoring midfielder qualifies for Ireland thanks to his Cork-born grandparents – but he’s also eligible for Israel thanks to his ancestry.

Crawford said: It was funny. When I had the conversation with him, he would laugh and say, “Of all the games to come, it’s against Israel!”

“He’s a talented player, he has a lot of energy, he can see passes, he can score goals and he’s an exciting player.

“I saw his game the other night against Oxford and he was exceptional. He plays an attacking role with Plymouth – and they’re a good team, Plymouth.

“I saw them play against Derby and when he came on he made a huge difference and they actually went on and beat Derby 3-2.”

With Joel Bagan on the left for Cardiff City ruled out with a tight hamstring, there’s a chance for Shamrock Rovers full-back Andy Lyons – continuing the Tallaght theme – to make his point.

The Naas man will leave for the Championship side of Blackpool this winter after the Lancashire side agreed a deal worth around €400,000 with the Hoops.

And Crawford has backed Lyons – who is right-footed but has excelled on the opposite side for Rovers this year – to make an impact as he rises to the English second tier.

He said: “It opens the door for him, but that’s something we were aware of in the last window.

“Even heading into the last window he was doing very well and since then he has been voted player of the month.

“He’s scored nine goals this season and he’s had plenty of assists. He is well placed to enter the camp.

“He’s a talented player, he really is, and he works hard. He came to our camps sometimes and he wasn’t playing, but what he did, and what I admire, is that he managed.

“He kept his head down and worked hard in training. There was no sulking and that, to me, underlines his character.

“When he returns to Shamrock Rovers, he plays at left-back. I was curious to see how he was going to play there, and to be honest with him, he’s been excellent in that position.

“It will be a step forward, there is no doubt about it. I don’t know too much about Blackpool, but it will be a step up for Andy.

“It’s the volume of matches. You play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday. It’s a real test of your physical nature, can you keep playing these games?

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“Because the intensity of the Championship is different from the intensity of these Europa League conference games.

“But can Andy do it? Yeah, I think he can. He’s in good shape, he desperately needs to learn and he’s a talent.

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