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Connolly impact shows value of break to regain Brighton focus

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Connolly built high standards for himself with a breakthrough brace against Spurs last October. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Connolly built high standards for himself with a breakthrough brace against Spurs last October. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

REUTERS

Connolly built high standards for himself with a breakthrough brace against Spurs last October. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

One of the highlights of the Irish Premier League weekend was an important cameo from Brighton's Aaron Connolly.

His impact with a classy injury-time touch to set up Neal Maupay's winner against Arsenal was badly needed for both the club and the young Galwegian.

Connolly built high standards for himself with a breakthrough brace against Spurs last October propelling his profile to another level.

It is worth remembering that this is the 20-year-old's first campaign involved in senior football and a pre-season offer that he would feature in 18 top-flight games would have been seized with open arms.

But he found it harder after the turn of the year, and hasn't registered a goal since that Spurs salvo. Prior to the shutdown, he had fallen out favour with Graham Potter and also had injury problems.

Yet there were also discussions about a new contract and there were observers around the Ireland camp who felt this was proving to be something of a distraction for Connolly who will be financially secure when he signs his next deal.

It's natural this would have an impact on a player that tends to be expressive if things aren't going his way. He's clearly a very talented individual and Saturday's snippet demonstrated that he has the ability to operate in elite company.

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Maybe the break has allowed Connolly to take stock and attack a vital period with renewed vigour.

The struggles of John Egan and Enda Stevens for Sheffield United yesterday highlighted how the lay-off can halt momentum. Connolly might have benefited from it, and he's got a lot to gain from maintaining that level in the coming weeks.

He was actually out of favour at U-19 international level before the appointment of Stephen Kenny prompted a recall to the U-21 squad.

Connolly shone in a left-sided attacking role during his brief time within the group. Keith Andrews was slated by Roy Keane over the weekend, but he struck up a productive relationship with the youth.

There's no doubt that the player's preferred position is as a central striker and his assist against Arsenal showed he is comfortable picking up the ball in those areas.

However, Kenny likes width in his side and a different type of number nine so it's entirely possible that Connolly will have to adjust if he is involved in the autumn.

Michael Obafemi also resumed after the break with a central role in the Southampton side, yet Kenny only had sparing opportunities to work with the speedster at U-21 level. Shane Long is battling to be fit for Southampton's clash with Arsenal on Thursday.

Irish Independent