Aaron Connolly’s Dream Come True
Aaron Connolly’s Dream Come True
You could forgive Aaron Connolly for pinching himself. In the space of a few weeks, the 19-year-old went from being a relative unknown to having his name splashed across the back pages. A stunning two-goal performance in Brighton & Hove Albion’s 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in October, followed by his debut for the Republic of Ireland, have put Connolly’s name on the lips of many football fans.
To achieve this success in such a small space of time is dream-like for a young player. The Tottenham game was his first Premier League start, and within a couple of weeks, he was starting for Ireland in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland. It’s the stuff of fiction, but Connolly’s talents are there for all to see.
“I didn’t sleep after the Tottenham game as scoring in the Premier League is something I always dreamed of,” he said in an interview. All young players hold their dreams and ambitions but rarely are they realised in such a flash. Connolly has benefitted from the arrival of Graham Potter at the south coast club, a manager who values all the qualities Connolly embodies.
It may surprise some to learn that the Irishman made his Brighton first-team debut over two years ago as a substitute in a League Cup match against Barnet, but this season he has reached another level. His two goals against Spurs were examples of first-class attacking play, demonstrating a poacher’s instinct for the first, before firing in a cannon of a right foot shot to bag his brace. The result put an end to Brighton’s run of eight Premier League home games without a win, and they had Connolly to thank.
He plays with the kind of flair that you would expect from a talented teenager — full of speed and trickery, and never afraid to take on a defender. There is always a sense of the unexpected when Connolly gets on the ball, and that makes him a nightmare to defend against.
Connolly’s emergence has come at an opportune moment for the Republic of Ireland national team and manager Mick McCarthy. The side have been struggling for goals in their Euro 2020 qualifiers. With a must-win clash against Denmark on the horizon, Connolly’s skill and creativity could make all the difference and cause football latest odds to favour Ireland.
Indeed, there has been a notable lack of creative young Irish players coming through the system, which has affected the national team. If Connolly can continue to impress then he could blaze a trail for the next wave of young attacking talent in the Irish game.
There are parallels between Ireland’s attacking deficiencies and Brighton’s own lack of forward firepower. Last season under Chris Hughton, Brighton managed only 35 league goals, ten fewer than Southampton who finished one place above them in the table. Hughton is a manager who prioritises defensive structure and organisation, but under Potter, there is a sense that the Seagulls are spreading their wings in an attacking sense. Their opening day 3-0 win at Watford was evidence of this, as was the recent mauling of Spurs in which Connolly played a starring role.
The youngster’s pace and skill are what is needed at Premier League level to unlock defences, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to produce the goods for Brighton. It’s important that too much pressure is not placed on his shoulders and he’s able to mature and flourish at his own pace.
The nature of his sudden rise to prominence is that it can breed unrealistic expectations. The young Galway native is only 19 years of age and has a long way to go to prove that he can perform at the highest level every week. With every new experience, he will grow stronger, and the early signs are that Brighton and the Republic of Ireland have one of the Premier League’s most exciting young talents at their disposal.
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