Mick McCarthy says that 19-year-old Aaron Connolly deserves his first crack at senior international football after a weekend in which he made all of the early headlines by scoring twice in Brighton's 3-0 defeat of Tottenham.
"I've said all along that any young player who is getting first-team football and playing well would be a real contender for the squad for these games," said the Republic of Ireland manager on Sunday. "Aaron has got into the Brighton team, played well and scored, so he deserves this chance.
"The first bonus this weekend was to see so many of our players started for their clubs and the second bonus was the fact that some of them [Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick as well as Connolly] scored as well."
Neither Shane Duffy nor David McGoldrick made even the bench but McCarthy says he has still not given up on the pair who are working with the medical teams at their respective clubs in a late bid to be fit enough to travel. The manager says has delayed finalising his travelling party in order to give them every chance.
Losing McGoldrick, if it happens, is bound to seem like less of a blow after Connolly’s performance on Saturday. The teenager looked full of confidence as he marked his first Premier League start with a couple of terrific goals.
The young Irish man, who started out at Mervue United in his native Galway, had seemed set for another stint out on loan as the new season approached but he told Graham Potter that playing for other clubs was not why he had gone there three years ago, and the Brighton boss told reporters recently that he admired the player’s pitch for a place in the first-team squad, observing: “He’s a determined little so-and-so.”
Connolly has been showing that for a while now. He is something of a success story for the national development leagues here, having scored 18 times as a 15-year-old in the under-17 one. That and his international performances that year earned him a trial at Brighton, where he scored in a game against Norwich and was promptly signed. He has made serious progress since.
He was named player of the year in the Premier League’s under-23 set-up last year, having scored 11 times before heading out on loan to Luton.
That spell away was wrecked by a hamstring injury, which completely scuppered any chance he had of breaking into a winning team. His promise was such, however, that Potter took a chance of starting him in a losing team two divisions higher at the weekend, and Connolly repaid him by becoming the first Irish teenager since Robbie Keane in 1999 to get a brace in an English top-flight game.
It was, he said, his proudest moment in the game, but that’s a line he has been trotting out with remarkable regularity as one early-career milestone has followed another.
His father had taken a chance on him starting and flown over to see the match. Both Connolly’s parents, having had the performance dedicated to them, may well have booked for the rather longer trip to Tbilisi since then.
Their son is sure to go, in any case, and given his knack these days for grabbing the opportunities given to him, Saturday might just be another occasion to savour.