Since making a name for himself at Brighton & Hove Albion, Aaron Connolly has become a regular starter at the Amex Stadium. However, the 21-year-old is yet to make much of an impact on the international stage, failing to score a single goal in his first six appearances. Although the Galway-born attacker has yet to show that he’s a consistent goalscorer, he’s got time on his side to continue developing, and he has the talent to become the long-term solution within a goal-shy Ireland side.
Just Seven Goals in the Euro Qualifiers
Connolly had a troubling campaign throughout 2020-21, with injuries stopping him from finding any rhythm in front of goal. Last season, the 21-year-old picked up both groin and hamstring problems, which saw him miss eight of Brighton’s Premier League games. His lack of match time undoubtedly hindered him on the international stage, and thus he wasn’t in the squad for Ireland’s semi-final play-off defeat to Slovakia. Pavel Hapal’s side won the fixture on penalties, and now they are 19/1 in the Euro 2020 odds from Paddy Power to top Group E, which also contains Spain, Poland and Sweden.
While Ireland fans may be divided on whether Connolly is the long-term solution, there’s undoubtedly a collective agreement that the team lacks goals. According to the Irish Times, Ireland had scored just 21 goals in their last 30 games prior to the Andorra match. Not only that, but only James Collins and Shane Duffy had more than one goal to their name since 2018 before Troy Parrott’s double against the small European nation. The lack of clinical finishing within Stephen Kenny’s side is one of the main reasons they failed to qualify for Euro 2020 via Group D. The Boys in Green finished three points behind second-placed Denmark, scoring 16 fewer goals than Kasper Hjulmand’s team.
Competition for Places in the Attacking Third
It isn’t only domestically that Connolly has suffered from injuries. Ahead of Ireland’s friendlies against Andorra and Hungary, the 21-year-old withdrew from the squad due to a foot injury. It’s fair to say that luck hasn’t been on the Galway-born striker’s side thus far, with him missing five international games through fitness issues. However, even when available for selection, Connolly has often been played out of position, lining up as a central striker just once in six matches.
The problem for Connolly is the vast array of options available to Kenny in the offensive third. Collins has played his way into contention after scoring two goals in eight international matches, while Shane Long has long been a go-to option. The manager also has a couple of up-and-coming talents to call upon, including Norwich’s Adam Idah and Tottenham’s Parrott. This competition, combined with Connolly’s recent injuries, makes it difficult for him to play his way into Kenny’s plans.
Ireland Should Persist with Connolly
Unlike many other attacking options in the Ireland squad, Connolly is one of few who play regular Premier League football. If he wasn’t good enough, Graham Potter, the Brighton manager, wouldn’t call on him so frequently. Although he’s had his struggles and hasn’t hit the ground running internationally, the talent is there, so Kenny should persist with the 21-year-old.
Words: Alan Phelan