Precocious talent Ferguson included in Ireland U-21 squad

Sixteen-year-old striker already making waves at Brighton

Jimmy Breslin, the late great New York Daily News columnist, had a reliable intro: ‘There are eight million stories in the Naked City and this is one of them’.

Something similar can be said about Jim Crawford’s Republic of Ireland under 21s. Sixteen-year-old Evan Ferguson is definitely one of them.

Earlier this month, Brighton opened their Premier League Two campaign with a 2-0 win over Derby County. The second goal at Pride Park was conjured, delivered and finished by three Irish teenagers.

Eight touches were all they needed. James Furlong (19) killed a crossfield ball and slid a pass down the left wing to Andrew Moran before sprinting around the 17-year-old, gathering Moran’s back heel and launching a cross that found Ferguson’s head at the back post.


On Tuesday Ferguson, who played for Bohemians at 14, made his senior debut for Brighton alongside Moran in the Carabao Cup victory over Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff City.

Crawford was watching and he decided to bump the pair up the age grades for Ireland’s European Championship qualifiers away to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Luxembourg. The same level where Evan’s father Barry Ferguson won six caps in 2000.

“I worked with him [Barry]as an FAI development officer many years ago,” Crawford remembered, “and I took a keen interest in his son then, because he was doing well at St Kevin’s Boys. Then he went to Bohs and it’s been a hell of a journey for Evan at the minute. There’s lots more to come. He comes from a fantastic family who will keep him grounded.”

The Ferguson family’s British in-laws allowed them to circumnavigate the Brexit curse that bans EU citizens from joining an English club until they turn 18.

“Evan is big, he is strong, he is a clever striker, he knows when to run in behind, he knows when to drop short and link it up. He scored a penalty against West Ham and there was a decent finish against Derby from a cross by young Furlong. He knows where the goal is but I certainly would not want to be putting undue pressure on the boy.

Exciting prospect

“This is the culture we have with the 21s, you come in, you enjoy your football and take on board the information that is given to you. He is an exciting prospect, he really is.”

It should be noted that Ferguson’s promotion was arguably fast-tracked by the agents of Mipo Odubeko (18) at West Ham and Southampton’s Michael Obafemi (21) informing Crawford that the Dublin-born strikers are focused on Premier League breakthroughs this season.

“All I can say is it’s his choice, his decision and we’ll move on,” Crawford responded to a constant line of inquiry about Odubeko now that England and Nigeria are in the frame.

“If I get a phone call from his agent or Mipo himself, the lines of communication will always be open with me. We have a small playing pool in comparison to other countries and we can never write off players who want to play for Ireland, and if it takes him a year or two years, he will make a decision on it and we’ll talk then.”

Another story for another time. Same goes for the Bohs trio and an increasing number of Irish men in the Bundesliga.

Republic of Ireland Under-21 Squad

Goalkeepers: Sam Blair (Bury Town, on loan from Norwich City), Brian Maher (Bray Wanderers), Daniel Rose (Schalke 04).

Defenders: Joel Bagan (Cardiff City), Andy Lyons (Bohemians), Anselmo Garcia MacNulty (Wolfsburg), Oisin McEntee (Newcastle United), Mark McGuinness (Cardiff City), Jake O'Brien (Crystal Palace), Lee O'Connor (Celtic).

Midfielders: Conor Coventry (West Ham United), Dawson Devoy (Bohemians), Ryan Johansson (Fortuna Sittard, on loan from Sevilla), Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth), Andrew Moran (Brighton), Conor Noss (Borussia Möchengladbach), Ross Tierney (Bohemians), Louie Watson (Derby County).

Forwards: Evan Ferguson (Brighton), Will Ferry (Crawley Town, on loan from Southampton), Joshua 'JJ' Kayode (Rotherham United), Ollie O'Neill (Fulham), Colm Whelan (UCD), Tyreik Wright (Salford City, on loan from Aston Villa).

FixturesUefa European Under-21 Championship qualifiers (all times are Irish times)

Friday, September 3 | Bosnia & Herzegovina U21 v Republic of Ireland U21, FF BH Football Training Centre, Zenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina, KO: 3.30pm

Tuesday, September 7 | Luxembourg U21 v Republic of Ireland U21, Stade Jos Nosbaum, Dudelange, Luxembourg, KO: 3pm

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent