Ireland U-21 team boss Jim Crawford has warned the cohort of underage internationals who are refusing, or delaying, the Covid-19 vaccine that they are putting their international careers in danger.
Crawford, Stephen Kenny’s successor as U-21 coach, has enjoyed a bright start to the qualifiers for Euro 2023, with four points from two away games last month. Preparations for next Friday’s qualifier at home to Luxembourg are smooth enough, but the build-up to the subsequent game, away to Montenegro, is utterly chaotic due to Covid.
As Montenegro is on the UK’s ‘red list’ for travel, anyone returning to the UK from the Balkan nation must isolate, and British clubs are not willing to lose players for 10 days so will not allow them to travel.
There are no such restrictions on travel to Ireland from Montenegro, so unless his UK-based crop of players can be included in an exemption granted by the UK government, Crawford would have to take a home-based squad to Podgorica.
In preparation for that, he has a shadow squad ready, with 15 League of Ireland players to be added to the quintet of David Odumosu (Drogheda United), Dawson Devoy, Andy Lyons and Ross Tierney (all Bohemians) and Colm Whelan (UCD) who are in the squad for the Luxembourg tie.
The UK government is reportedly considering an exemption to the red-list-country isolation rule for players who are fully vaccinated – but Crawford reveals that seven non-vaccinated members of his squad would miss out in the event of an exemption, a frustration for him, as reports from the UK indicate that only a third of Premier League footballers have taken the vaccine.
“We have all heard of the conspiracy theories here but it’s our choice to get the jab, certain players now will realise that potentially, players could miss out on a game against Montenegro which just so happens to be a red district for the UK,” Crawford says, making it clear that neither he nor the FAI can force players to take the vaccine as a condition for international duty.
“We just had very loose conversations about it and it would have been by choice. Some players are of an age, that they just get on with it. It doesn’t seem to bother them. Everybody is different. I don’t think I’m in a position to force people to have the jabs either. It’s totally what they want to do. Our doctor has had numerous meetings with the players about getting the jab and it’s really up to them,” he added.
An extra frustration for Crawford and the FAI is that Montenegro are refusing to budge on their home game on Tuesday week, declining an FAI offer to play the game at a neutral venue or to move the fixture to a free date next March, and the Irish boss regrets the fact that UEFA have not stepped in to force Montenegro to back down.
He says he has faith in the talent from the league, if he does indeed need to travel with a League of Ireland squad, though he has made changes to his panel by choice.
Strikers Mipo Odubeko and Michael Obafemi remain absent from the squad, while talks with Manchester City striker Liam Delap have not progressed, but there is one new recruit as St Patrick’s Athletic man Darragh Burns, currently with Northern Ireland, has started the process to declare for the Republic.
Ryan Johansson has been left out of the squad as Crawford wants him to establish himself at club level, a chance of that in a friendly with Fortuna Sittard next week, while the continental-based trio of Anselmo Garcia McNulty, John Joe Finn and Danny Rose all drop down to the U-19s for a spell.