By Aidan Fitzmaurice
Most European nations would find it hard to imagine that the national team could go for 16 years, 158 matches and eight complete qualifying campaigns without using a single player from the country's domestic league, but that's the situation the Republic of Ireland has endured for almost two decades.
Bridge that gap
But, on Wednesday night, all eyes in the Irish Premier Division will be on 24-year-old Dubliner Glenn Crowe when he plays for Ireland in a friendly against Greece in Athens. Once Italian referee Alfredo Trentalange blows his whistle to start the game, the Bohemian FC striker will have ended that 16-year gap.
After being twice called up to the squad but not selected in 2001, Crowe was told after training on Monday night that he would start the game up front alongside Tottenham Hotspur FC's Gary Doherty. As Ireland's caretaker manager Don Givens has only four outfield players on the bench, another home-based player, Shelbourne FC winger Wes Hoolahan, is also expected to play at some stage.
It was always going to take a special player to break into the Ireland side from the domestic league, and Crowe's goalscoring record since moving back to Ireland in 1999 after a five-year spell in England has put him at the top of the queue of Irish strikers after Robbie Keane, Damien Duff and Clinton Morrison, who were all ruled out through injury.
'There on merit'
Glenn is there on merit, he scores goals and it's as simple as that," said Givens. "He is a full-time player with Bohemians, he's scoring goals for a team which is playing well so I have no problem in putting him in."
Crowe was not the most prolific striker when he was in England, scoring just one league goal in his four seasons with Wolverhampton Wanderers FC while playing most of his football on loan to lower-league clubs Exeter City FC and Cardiff City FC before joining Plymouth Argyle FC on a free transfer.
UEFA Cup goals
He joined Bohemians in August 1999 and had a mediocre first season with the Dublin club, scoring nine league goals in 30 matches. However in 2000/01, Crowe really started to fly. He scored two goals in two UEFA Cup games for Bohemians against 1. FC Kaiserslautern (including the only goal in a 1-0 in Germany), and helped Bohemians win the Premier Division title by scoring 25 goals in 33 league games.
Last season brought four more goals in Europe in UEFA Champions League qualifying matches against FC Levadia Maardu and Halmstad BK, and a further 19 in the league, while this season Crowe is top of the scoring charts and his club top of the table. Now Crowe has been given a chance to once again wear the green jersey he has worn at Under-16, Under-18, Under-21 and B international levels.
"There will be undue pressure on Glenn, and Wes Hoolahan too, because it's so long since a home-based player was last capped," said Pat Byrne, the former Shamrock Rovers FC player whose eighth and final cap against Czechoslovakia in 1986 made him the last Irish Premier Division player to represent the Republic. "But
they both deserve to be where they are."
With the Republic of Ireland still recovering from the departure of former manager Mick McCarthy and the continuing absence of midfield player Roy Keane, supporters could certainly do with a new hero at the moment. And as Crowe doubtless knows, there's no hero quite like a local one.
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