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Evan Ferguson’s rise to the top is no surprise for U-21 boss Jim Crawford

Asking a boy of 16 to play in competitive international games against older players, some of whom were not only adults but six years older, was a risk, even potentially dangerous.

ut as Evan Ferguson (18) steps up his recovery from the injury sustained on FA Cup duty with Brighton last weekend, his former manager at U-21 level, Jim Crawford, says he had no doubts about the player’s ability to step up and deliver at that level. Crawford handled Ferguson with kid gloves in their time working together, and although Crawford capped Ferguson (just 16 at the time) nine times with the U-21s before his progression to the senior stage, he started just four of them and never started back-to-back games in a double header.

“He came in to us at 16 and on paper I am sort of saying to myself, ‘this does not feel right, I should not be bringing in a 16-year-old to an U-21 campaign’,” says Crawford.

“But physically he did not look out of place whatsoever. As soon as I saw him in the games, in training, in the shooting practices we did, I could see he was an outstanding prospect.  He was 16 when he made his 21s debut but he was physically and mentally ready because he is very mature.

“He came in and straight away he was part of the group. What he has done does not surprise me,” says Crawford.

He recalls sitting beside senior team assistant manager Keith Andrews while watching Ferguson play as a sub for Brighton’s U-23 side.

“I said to Keith, ‘wait to you see that boy’. Yet even though he was impressive then, from where he was then, compared to where is now, is miles apart.

“Nothing fazes him. He just gets on with it. Every window he came in with us, he just got better and better. He went through this whole process where he started training with the (Brighton) first team, then he got a couple of appearances for them, and that helps you develop. Now he is in the first team and playing and that is going to kick him on even more,” added Crawford.

With his own future secured thanks to a new deal as U-21 boss, Crawford can plan ahead after the draw was made for the qualifiers for the Euro finals in 2025. Ireland are in a tough group with old foes Italy, Norway, Turkey, Latvia and San Marino. 

Senior caps are still eligible at that age group but Gavin Bazunu, Troy Parrott, Andrew Omobamidele, and of course Ferguson are unlikely to feature for the U-21s again, while stalwarts like Conor Coventry, Gavin Kilkenny, and Lee O’Connor are overage.

But Crawford was enthused by a recent first-team debut from Bosun Lawal at Celtic.

“Bosun is a young lad and is certainly on the right development path there, he is in a good place, he’s upbeat and looking forward to our camp, if selected,” Crawford added.

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