Coaches' Insight | U21 Manager Jim Crawford
In his Coaches' Insight interview, Jim talks looks back at how he got the buzz for coaching, learning from Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer, and his pride in seeing Troy Parrott and Lee O'Connor make their senior Ireland debuts.
Name: Jim Crawford
Role: Republic of Ireland Under-21 Manager
Began current role: 2020
Shamrock Rovers Caretaker Manager
FAI Emerging Talent Programme
Republic of Ireland U19 Assistant Coach
Republic of Ireland U18 Head Coach
Republic of Ireland U21 Assistant Coach
What is the one key attribute you need as a coach?
For me, the stand-out attribute needed for a coach are excellent communication skills. There are a lot of coaches out there who have a fantastic knowledge of the game but don’t have the communication skills required to deliver the message.
Whether you’re on the training pitch delivering your strategy or in a team meeting going over details, you have to communicate your message to everyone and you have to have the skills to do that.
What is your favourite thing about the job?
Short term it would be getting out on the training pitch with the players and devising a strategy to win a game and breakdown the opponents.
Long-term would be the satisfaction of having an influence on a player making it to the senior team. You look at the likes of Troy Parrott and Lee O’Connor becoming senior international players, and whilst I had a small part to play, I still take incredible pride from it.
Any pre-match rituals?
I’m quite boring in that sense! I get up early on matchdays and training days and make sure the day is planned ahead. I meet up with the staff so the whole set-up for the day is like a military operation. Nothing is left to chance because everyone knows how important it is for players to get sleep, have their pre-match meal and the journey to the stadium – it has to run like clockwork.
What one message would you give to a player to keep with them throughout their career?
The message I would give a player is that they have to constantly challenge themselves. I saw it first-hand playing at Newcastle with Alan Shearer, whether it was 5-a-side, 7-a-side or 11-a-side training games he always wanted to score goals. That stuck with me, so I would say to players ‘always challenge yourselves’.
If a coach asks to work on body shape or having a positive first touch, go and work on it in training because it soon becomes a habit and you can then take it onto the pitch. If you’re with your U23s team over in the UK and you’re pulling up trees week-in-week out, you’ve got to challenge yourself and say ‘look, I need to go out on loan’.
Which coach/manager – from any sport – have you taken your greatest inspiration from?
There have been so many managers I’ve worked under that I’ve gained inspiration from.
I’ve worked under Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Tommy Burns – with his passion and knowledge of the game. Then in Ireland I worked under Pat Fenlon and I took a lot from his man management, and there’s Paul Doolin and Stephen Kenny who I’ve learned a lot from too.
To extend this, in my former role as a coach educator I’ve gained a lot from talking to coaches on pro-licence courses. So i wouldn’t say there’s one person, it’s more like a group of people who have lit my flame.
Favourite match you coached and why?
One that stands out, believe it or not it, would have been 15 years ago when I was with Shelbourne. Pat Fenlon asked me to take on the U21s team on a particular Saturday and we were playing St. Patrick’s Athletic in the AUL.
It would have been the first time I was involved in coaching or managing a team at an elite level and I enjoyed the buzz of preparing for the game, I enjoyed the half-time team talk and the thrill afterwards because we won 2-1. I would say that’s when the seed was planted to go into coaching because I enjoyed it so much.
More recently, with the Ireland U18s we beat Belgium 2-1 and the reason it stands out is Belgium played a 1-3-4-3 system and they had a unique way of playing out from the back that we had to combat. It was the manner in which we played and we had players involved then who are involved in the U21s now such as Adam Idah and Jason Knight. It was a fantastic performance against an exceptional Belgium team.
What team or match from any era do you wish you could have coached?
Perhaps the group who played in the European Championships in 1988. I would have loved to have been involved when they beat England – I can only imagine the jubilation.
If you look at the players in that team like Paul McGrath and Ronnie Whelanand Ray Houghton -they were outstanding players. It was an iconic result against a great England team and to be part of the group, that brought the country to a standstill, would have been a fantastic experience.