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Ireland U-21 boss Jim Crawford hails senior-bound duo after impressive San Marino victory



Skipper Hodge starred in the Serravalle victory by setting up two goals while midfielder Andrew Moran also impressed, bagging his second goal of the campaign as the U-21s secured a record win on a night when Celtic’s Rocco Vata bagged a hat-trick.

While Brighton’s Moran, on loan at Blackburn, made his senior debut against New Zealand last November, this will be Hodge’s first time in the senior set-up, after being rewarded for his form on loan at QPR from Wolves. Crawford hopes both can get minutes next week at Lansdowne Road.

“I’m sure John (O’Shea) watched the game. The biggest compliment I can pay the boys is that they came here, played against the lowest seeded team in the group and played the game like they were on trial,” said Crawford, with Friday’s win keeping them second in their Euro 2025 qualifying group and one point behind leaders Italy.

“They worked exceptionally well, but do you know what? I didn’t expect anything less because they are two fantastic characters, two fantastic footballers and the sky’s the limit for the two of them.

“I hope they get a few minutes with the senior team on Tuesday. Look, we’ll see, but I can’t compliment them enough. They came in and worked exceptionally hard. They love being here. That’s every boy’s dream, to represent Ireland at senior level.”

18-year-old winger Rocco Vata bagged his first international hat-trick with three second-half strikes and Crawford feels the Scottish-born player is someone with immense potential, having also hit a brace against San Marino in Cork last September.

“Rocco has been excellent all week. He’s certainly a goal scorer and certainly has ability,” said Crawford, whose U-21 assistant Alan Reynolds is set to be appointed as Bohemians’ new boss next week.

“Of course he’s still learning the game and he’ll do that at Celtic, they’ll help him along with the coaching staff they have, but when it comes to international football which is a little bit different to club football, we’ll help him. He’s certainly a player with high potential and I’m delighted he got three goals, it’s a fantastic achievement for somebody so young.”

After netting his first two within two minutes of each other, Vata made sure of the match ball and bagged his fifth U-21 goal in injury time, turning in clubmate Bosun Lawal’s effort on the goalline.

“What a feeling! It’s my first 90 minutes in about three months or so, I’ve been through injuries and only getting time as a substitute with the (Celtic) first-team, so it was nice to get minutes,” said Vata.

“I feel like the first camp (last September) settled me in, especially getting the two goals. Tonight, I got three so I’m even more confident going into the next game against Turkey. Hopefully I’ll crack on in the rest of the season, stay with the first team, get more minutes and prove myself. That’s what I’m focusing on and hopefully that goes for Celtic as well as Ireland.”

Lawal’s effort was heading towards goal before Vata got a toe to it, and the winger added: “ Bosun tried to say it was already over the line by the time I touched it! But I felt like it was two yards away. I understand his frustration but I also needed the hat-trick. I was fighting to get that and I got it so I’m buzzing.”

19-year-old Brighton striker Mark O’Mahony also made his U-21 debut in the comfortable win as a second half substitute, with Crawford admitting the Corkman will get a chance to impress in their upcoming friendlies in June.

“He’s a big physical presence and I can see good things. He’s at a fantastic club in Brighton, so he gets an opportunity in June and we’ll see what happens in September and October,” said Crawford.

“We’ve always dipped in younger players during the campaign, I think that’s important, to give them experience of playing in European Championships.”

With his side now not in competitive action until next September, where they face a huge double-header against Turkey (away) and Latvia (home), Crawford hailed his Young Boys in Green for a disciplined shift against the world’s fifth-smallest country on Friday night.

“I thought the boys were fantastic, it’s a different type of pressure in those types of games,” he added.

“We spoke before about not getting complacent, because in international football that can hurt you. We know at some stage that San Marino are going to get a result against somebody, whether it is a draw or a win, and we just needed to make sure it wasn’t going to be against us.

“I thought the boys, to the letter of the law, carried out the game plan which was excellent. Everybody, since we met up on Sunday, applied themselves exactly as they should in U-21s football. They came in, worked hard and that’s our just reward right there.”

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