Ireland boss keeping tabs on talented Wolves forward Lee Harkin

JIM Crawford admits talented Wolves teenager Lee Harkin is on his radar, claiming the door is open for his inclusion in the Republic of Ireland U21 panel who are vying for a place in next summer’s UEFA European Championship.

Wolves starlet Lee Harkin is on Ireland U21 boss Jim Crawford's radar.
Wolves starlet Lee Harkin is on Ireland U21 boss Jim Crawford's radar.

The 19 year-old former Tristar and Derry City youth shot to fame when scoring two stunning goals in a 2-1 win over Manchester United for County Derry in the Super Cup NI back in 2018.

He secured a move to Premiership outfit Wolves in 2019, signing his first professional contract the following year and continues to impress for the Academy teams, scoring in the U21’s 2-1 win over Stockport County at Edgeley Park last week.

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Harkin is yet to be capped at U21 level and while the Hazelbank native is also eligible to play for Northern Ireland who are also closely monitoring his development, and Scotland - through his Scottish born mother - it’s understood he favours playing for the Republic.

The versatile forward hasn’t been involved at international level, north or south, at any age level in recent years, opting instead to concentrate on his club career. However, with the Republic U21s just one match away from securing their place at a major tournament next year, it could entice him to reconsider his international options.

Crawford is certainly keeping tabs on the player and his comments will no doubt be welcomed by Harkin who played for Paul Osam’s Republic of Ireland U16s in the Victory Shield Schoolboys competition back in 2018.

Crawford, who leads his team out for the second leg play-off against Israel in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night after a 1-1 draw in Tallaght on Friday, says the FAI are determined not to let any talented player ‘slip through the net’.

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“Yeah, I saw Lee play recently for Wolves against Fulham, I watched the game and he did well,” said Crawford. “Of course he’s on the radar. We’re open to anybody with talent and character to come into the U21s.”

Harkin’s Wolves U21 teammate Joe Hodge, who spent a short loan spell with Derry City from Man City in 2021 before sustaining an injury, made his Ireland U21 debut in Friday’s play-off and impressed in midfield. The pair have hit it off at Wolves and could potentially team up again on the international scene.

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Harkin, who penned a one year contract extension at Wolves last April, made his senior debut for the Molineux outfit during a pre-season friendly against SC Farense in Portugal and he’s highly rated by the Black Country club.

With the player pool for the U21s limited, Crawford added that the FAI are working on improving communication lines and its scouting network in Derry and the north west to ensure they stay ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to identifying the best players for the international set-up.

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“I know up in Derry you have the situation where the IFA are there so you’re fighting over players but for me, it’s about communication. Between those at Derry City Football Club and we’ve got High Performance coaches who work up in that region and I’m sure they will be looking at games up there and reporting back any talent that we can tap into up, that’s part of their role.

“That gets fed back to our U15s head coach, Jason Donoghue and Paul Osam, and it’s important that it works and that communication gets better because we don’t want anyone slipping through the net.

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“I know we’ve had Conor Bradley who went over to Liverpool and could’ve been somebody who could’ve played for us and it was disappointing to lose him. You’re always going to lose one or two players but it’s important that we’re ahead of the curve in all this. When it comes to U21 level, we’re always open to talent. Our player pool has always been small but we’ve certainly increased it at this level over the last couple of years and it’s something I intend to continue.”

Derry man, Harkin would provide Crawford with plenty of options as he can play on the left, right or through the middle and has also played effectively as a No. 10 at club level with Wolves.

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“It does no harm having that competition for places; competition for squad places and competition for your starting XI which ultimately leads to securing qualification.”

Meanwhile Crawford says his Irish side have nothing to fear from the second leg of their Euro playoff against Israel on Tuesday night.

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"We have nothing to fear going into the second leg in Israel, I said to the boys the most important part now is to rest and recover, polish up on a couple of things heading into the second leg, but it's there for us, they have got a taste of it and we have nothing to be afraid of," Crawford said after the game.

"Overall I am proud of the players. I thought we were the better team, we created the better chances, it was disappointing to concede when we did, we were on top of the game and it's always hard to take, conceding from a set piece as we work very hard on them.

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“The mood in the camp is full of confidence,” Crawford added. “The belief is there and I think that’s backed up by the performance on Friday. They have nothing to fear here as long as we can play to our potential. As much as I think we played well on Friday, I still think we can play better with this group.”

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