‘Jonathan Hill was talking to people in the English government’ – Crawford recalls Covid nightmare

Jim Crawford has described Ireland’s visit to Montenegro last year as the biggest challenge of his Under-21 career to date.

The game came just four days after a 2-0 home win over Luxembourg – but Crawford’s woes did not center on tactics or injury doubts.

During the preparation of the double header, Montenegro was on the UK’s Covid red list.

This forced Crawford to name TWO teams for the double-header, including one made up entirely of home players – and 13 of those 22 players having never been called up before at Under-21 level.

In the end, Montenegro was taken off the red list, so Crawford could travel with a strong team.

But it was a logistical nightmare for the Under-21 boss until the 11th hour – and the game ended in a shock 2-1 defeat.

“The biggest challenge for me was the whole situation in Montenegro where Covid played a role there,” he said.

“The UK had Montenegro as a red zone so none of the players could go there. I knew well in advance that this could happen so I went to some influential people in the association and told them asked what we should do.

“It was a nightmare, really, having to choose almost two teams. It just wasn’t pleasant.

“I still say to this day that I wouldn’t be afraid to go to Montenegro with the larger group that was coming.

“The players didn’t even know where they were. It wasn’t until the final hour that it became apparent that this was no longer a red zone for British players.

“But some clubs were saying we weren’t comfortable with our players going there. So we also had to respect the wishes of the club.

“I saw it weeks in advance and said, okay, what’s the best way to approach this? I know some managers weren’t happy, but I did my best to better to get the best solution.

“(FAI CEO) Jonathan Hill here was talking to influential people in the English government to push this through and we finally got there.”

Crawford continued: “Covid is probably the running theme here where we were preparing for Italy last campaign and all of a sudden you heard about a few senior players taking Covid.

“Stephen (Kenny) is on the phone then, saying, we need this player and this player.

“It was also a challenge, but it was something we were still looking forward to, so we had everything in place.”

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