Wednesday 17 July 2019

Former Ireland and England underage star Dan Crowley will declare for Martin O'Neill's side if he gets a call

Dan Crowley (c) celebrates a goal in thee Dutch Eredivisie
Dan Crowley (c) celebrates a goal in thee Dutch Eredivisie

Aidan Fitzmaurice

HE has had the Three Lions on his shirt as well as the shamrock.

But former Arsenal midfielder Dan Crowley, who is now enjoying a renaissance of his career in Holland after a period of stagnation, has given his commitment to Ireland and insists he’s keen to play for the Boys in Green.

As we know from high-profile cases like Jack Grealish and Declan Rice, international allegiance is not set in stone. Coventry native Crowley, who has Irish grandparents, is an example of that as he switched between Ireland and England at underage level, more than once.

In March 2013 he played for England’s U17s in the Euro qualifiers, just weeks after he played in Croatia for Ireland’s U17 team in a friendly game.

His last taste of international football was in November 2015, with England’s U19s but Crowley, now in his second season with Dutch side Willem II, is keen to revive his Ireland career, if Martin O’Neill is interested.

“I have played for England and Ireland but my preference is to play for Ireland. I want to play for Ireland,” Crowley told The Herald.

“Of course I’d love to speak to Martin O’Neill but when nothing is happening it’s hard to talk about it so there’s not a lot I can do, bar playing well for my club in Holland, but my dream is to one day play on the big stage for Ireland.

“You have to be patient and you can’t rush things, Martin is looking now at players who are playing at a high level and have experience. I don’t know where I am on his list but I am happy with the club situation now, one day the Ireland call will come for me, hopefully, and if that comes I have to be ready.”

A Coventry lad, Crowley took the first major steps in his career at Aston Villa, his home from 2010-14 and a club with a very strong Irish presence.

And there was a real buzz around Crowley, in Villa’s U16 side when he was just 12, and in the Next Gen tournament (U19 level) which Villa won in 2013 thanks largely to the goals of Graham Burke, Crowley was playing with and against players three years older than him.

He had done enough at Villa to attract the attention of Arsenal and in 2014 he made the move to London.

Being described as the new Jack Wilshire added to the pressure on young Crowley’s shoulders, though Wilshire himself played a part by saying of Crowley: “Trust me when I say this kid is a player. Big future” when Crowley’s move went through.

In his three years with the Gunners he was unable to make the first team, bar the occasional run in pre-season games. Loan spells in League One (Barnsley and Oxford) and Holland (Go Ahead Eagles) gave him a taste for first team football but not everything was perfect, the Oxford boss stating his admiration for Crowley’s talent but adding in 2016 that “his professionalism at times lets him down.” Oxford cut the loan deal short.

Crowley says he has matured since then. “Looking back now I was mentally too young in those loan spells I had,” he reflects.

“It was nothing to do with my ability, and it was not to do with off-field stuff, you’d never see me out drinking or messing around or getting into trouble, but I thought I knew best. I’d speak my mind, I’d say what I think and looking back now I didn’t pick the right moment to speak.”

In 2017, Crowley felt he’d run into a wall of sorts and decided to leave England, joining Willem II on a three-year deal, but last season did not go to plan and he was sent out on loan to a second-tier side.

This season he’s back in the fold, is in the team and doing well as Willem II are seventh in the Dutch league, with Crowley earning a nice reputation for his assists.

“Coming to Holland was good for me and my career, I think I was too immature when I was on loan in England, you live and you learn,” he says. “I had played U23s football since I was 15 at Aston Villa and I was still playing U23 football at 18, you need to progress and get first team experience, play real football.

“We get good crowds here, and I like playing in front of them, I flourish from playing in front of a big crowd. When I played U23s football in England you have 50 people at the match so it’s nice to play in front of 11,000 at our home games. I am under contract here at Willem II until 2020 and I am enjoying it. I do want to come back to England at some stage, that was always the plan, but I am happy here.”

Happy with life in his adopted home of Tilburg, Crowley has been written off by some as he was unable to make it at Arsenal but he’s keen to show there is more to come. 

“People forget sometimes that I am still young, I have just turned 21, so many players have different career paths, people think if you are not playing in the Premier League at 21 that’s it, you have failed but I look at people like Harry Kane, who had all those spells on loan, who had time on the bench, he’s finally had a chance and he has taken it. And I know when I get my chance at the top, I will take it,” he says.

And a chance also means international football. With Ireland. “My grandparents are from Waterford and Cork, I have been over to Ireland a lot over the years, I used to go over every summer as a kid and I played Gaelic football in the Féile when I was over, usually in Waterford, they were the best times of my life, playing Gaelic over in Ireland,” he says

“Yes, I played underage for Ireland and England but you can’t make a decision when you are that young without testing the waters and seeing what it’s like.

“The good thing is that I was very young so there was no pressure on me, I just wanted to see where I’d be happiest, where I’d enjoy it the most so I had a spell in both camps. It’s a long time since I was involved with Ireland (2013). I really enjoyed those Irish camps, it was a good bunch of lads.

“Graham Burke (below) was at Villa with me, I see he has gone on to play for the Ireland senior team and only a while back he was in League One, it happened for Graham with Ireland and if I can keep playing well for Willem II it can happen for me,” added Crowley, who insists he’s not involved in a bidding war between the rival nations.

“I’m not holding out for England, if I am asked to play for Ireland I will. I know there’s a process I’d have to go through in terms of the paperwork but that’s not a problem. I am a creative player, I like to make things happen and I’d love to do that with the Irish team.”

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