Friday 23 August 2019

Connolly: I won't say a bad thing about ex-boss Hughton

Aaron Connolly. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Aaron Connolly. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Aaron Connolly emits the sense of a man on a mission, one who cannot allow sentimentality to influence his feelings about Chris Hughton's sacking.

The Galway native was handed his Brighton and Hove Albion debut by his compatriot in a League Cup tie almost two years ago.

Hughton kept Connolly under his watch, prepared to let him develop into the club's U-23 side.

It was a platform he excelled on, the 19-year-old claiming the division's Player of the Year award by scoring 11 goals and assisting 15 more.

There was even a brief spell on loan at Luton Town. His planned arrival at the League One champions in January had to be delayed due to a hamstring problem.

By the time he got there, the Hatters were on a roll towards the title and he squeezed in two cameos from the bench in the final month.

That set-back, coupled with his mysterious exclusion from the U-19 Ireland squad heading for the European finals in Armenia next month, illustrates the varied lot an Irish teen endures trying to make his way with a Premier League club.

He's ending the season, however, on the rise.

A stunning debut for Ireland's U-21s in Monday's Toulon Tournament opener had Stephen Kenny lavishing the praise. Connolly's tendency for goals and assists continued in France with one of each inside the first four minutes of the 4-1 victory.

Once he returns to Brighton later this month, Hughton will be gone, replaced by Graham Potter. Connolly has been enthused by reports of the new manager's philosophy while being mindful of his predecessor's guidance.

"I won't say anything bad about Chris Hughton because he gave me my debut," noted Connolly.

"I've not met the new manager yet but I've to report back for pre-season on June 28.

"I know that he liked to give young players game-time at Swansea so hopefully that continues."

On reflection, Luton was not the wisest of temporary moves. He didn't stand a chance of displacing the highest scoring Irishman in England last season, James Collins.

"I was upset at not playing more games for Luton but understood their situation," explains the tigerish striker who is also comfortable on the wing.

"James was banging in the goals and the other striker, Kazenga LuaLua, was also playing well."

After the former Mervue United schoolboy's stomach bug prevented him starting Thursday's scoreless draw against Mexico, he's declared himself fit for tomorrow's meeting with Bahrain. Another three points would clinch a place in the semi-final against either Brazil of Japan on Wednesday.

"This is my first time working under Stephen Kenny and he's really impressed me," said Connolly. "From the moment we walk into the dressing room, all the information we require for our game-plan is clearly set out.

"I had previously played under his assistants Keith Andrews and Jim Crawford for the Under-17s and U-18s.

"The messages are drilled into us but we're still able to attack with freedom."

Irish Independent

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