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U-19 Euro berth would 'boost' youth football

IF THE Republic of Ireland U-19s do enough today to qualify for the European Championship finals, it could have a knock-on affect for youth football in the country.

At least that is the belief that Jim Crawford is clinging to as the Irish youngsters take on Serbia (ko 4.30) in a must-win elite phase qualifier, where a place at this summer's finals is up for grabs.

Not only does Paul Doolin's side have to beat the host nation, they need Switzerland to slip up against Slovakia.

It is asking a lot, but confidence is high in the Irish camp.

And assistant manager Crawford insists qualifying for the finals is vital as it would give young players belief that Irish teams can compete with other big nations.

"It's a big day for us. We have been hammering it into the players' heads that we can still qualify and if we do manage to do that, it would be a massive achievement for this team, but also for the country," said Crawford.

"I think football, especially at the grassroots level, in Ireland needs something so that we can say, 'There's a conveyor belt of talent coming through and they are competing against the best and qualifying for tournaments'.

That would give football in Ireland such a lift.

"There is great work being done, but sometimes you ask yourself, 'Are we falling behind other codes? Have we done enough in recent years?'

"I just think that the grassroots football needs an example to look at and see that the system is working.



"Paul (Doolin) did brilliantly two years ago to get the under-19s to the finals in Romania, hopefully we can get to Lithuania now."

Crawford, who represented Ireland at U-21 level, has been impressed by the standard of the opposition – Ireland have drawn 2-2 with both Switzerland and Slovakia – during these qualifiers.

Yet, the former Shelbourne defender insists the Irish youngsters can upset the odds by clinching that one qualification spot.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable): Lawlor; Long, Sweeney, Smith, Griffin; Miele, Gallagher; Hayhurst, Sadlier, McEvoy; Byrne.