Saturday 19 October 2019

'I'm not sure it has all sunk in, I love getting goals' - Aaron Connolly on 'dream' debut

Teenage Brighton star’s classy double seals Ireland call-up

Aaron Connolly celebrates scoring Brighton’s second goal against Tottenham at the Amex Stadium. Photo: AP
Aaron Connolly celebrates scoring Brighton’s second goal against Tottenham at the Amex Stadium. Photo: AP

Sam Wallace

Aaron Connolly was last night called into Mick McCarthy's Republic of Ireland squad for the crucial Euro 2020 qualifier games against Georgia and Switzerland.

Connolly's promotion from Stephen Kenny's under-21 squad came just hours after he announced himself to the Premier League with two goals in Brighton's stunning 3-0 win over struggling Tottenham at the Amex Stadium.

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"I'm not sure it has all sunk in," said the 19-year-old after his fairytale first start in the Premier League. "It's a dream come true. I love getting goals. I love being able to make my debut.

"It was a great performance from the start. We have performed well over the weeks, but not got the results. It was a brilliant performance and it was great to see it all come together."

The Galway-born teenager's eye-catching performance, which earned him the man-of-the-match award, included a sparkling second-half goal to complete the Brighton rout and heap more misery on Spurs.

Brighton boss Graham Potter was full of praise for Connolly, as he confirmed the youngster had been in his thoughts since the manager arrived at the club to replace Chris Hughton last summer.

"He's been knocking on the door and been unlucky not to score," stated Potter. "He gives us an extra dimension. I'm delighted for him he is a young lad with a big future, but we are delighted we have got him with us. He took his goals really well, especially his second which was a fantastic piece of attacking play."

Brighton were completing a nightmare week for Tottenham, a defensive apocalypse for Mauricio Pochettino in which they conceded ten goals.

It's hard to keep track of all the ways that last season's Champions League finalists fell apart against a snappy, confident Brighton, although Connolly's second, cutting in from the left on his right foot and wrapping a shot into the corner, looked like the first of the four that Serge Gnabry scored for Bayern on Tuesday night. Pochettino changed the system and recalled contract refusenik Christian Eriksen. The manager substituted Son Heung-min to boos from his own fans and again his future, and that of the club, feels in the balance.

An injury to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris - later confirmed as a dislocated elbow - looked so bad that Pochettino conceded it had an effect on his players, as you might expect when a team-mate is carried off shrieking in pain, although it requires much less these days to disrupt the rhythm of this Spurs team.

Lloris fell on his left arm in the act of conceding the first goal, it crumpled underneath him at a horrible angle, and he was administered oxygen on the pitch.

The World Cup winner made yet another dreadful error, as he did against Southampton the previous week, this time misjudging a cross and being forced to drop it. Lloris' volatile performance levels, liable to go up and down over the course of a game, was last week's problem and it would have been this week's too had he not suffered the kind of injury that curtails whole seasons.

A goal and a goalkeeper down with three minutes played, the game was hardly over for Spurs, but they look incapable of the kind of composure required.

Pochettino has already had to outline his commitment to the job twice this season, but says the thought of being fired by Spurs does not concern him.

"No, I am not worried, what worries me is life, not football," he said. "I don't want you to take it the wrong way.

"Football is a game that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The problem for us - it was win, win, win and it was praise for everyone. Now in the last two games it was a tough situation to accept. But I don't want to be a philosopher or talk in a way that is not good. What scares me is life, not football. Football is to be strong and be brave and take decisions and to show your face when things are not good."

It wasn't just the form of Connolly that left Mick McCarthy with plenty to enthuse over. Ireland international Jeff Hendrick netted Burnley's winner against Everton (a game which saw Seamus Coleman sent off), while Conor Hourihane got in on the act with a goal for rampant Aston Villa in their 5-1 destruction of Norwich City.

Blackburn Rovers defender Derrick Williams was also added to McCarthy's squad while a hamstring injury has ruled out Portsmouth's Ronan Curtis.

"I have spoken to Aaron and Derrick and they are looking forward to meeting up with us," said McCarthy last night. "Aaron enjoyed his full debut for Brighton and we have been keeping a close eye on his progress this season."

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