Robbie Keane providing the inspiration for Aaron Connolly
Brighton striker made his senior debut during 0-0 draw with Georgia in Tbilisi
Ireland’s Aaron Connolly with assistant manager Robbie Keane before he comes on during the Euro 2020 qualifier against Georgia in Tbilisi. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Aaron Connolly will be thrilled if his international career is half as successful as that of mentor Robbie Keane.
The 19-year-old made his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland in Saturday’s evening’s 0-0 Euro 2020 qualifying draw in Georgia and might have snatched victory at the death from either of two half-chances which saw him home in on goal.
Brighton striker Connolly has inevitably been compared to Keane, who was also elevated to the senior ranks as a teenager by Mick McCarthy during his first spell as Ireland boss and went on to score a record 68 goals for his country.
Asked about the comparison with McCarthy’s assistant, he said: “If I was 10 or 11 years old and someone said that in eight or nine years’ time people would be comparing you to Robbie Keane, I would have laughed.
“What a career he had. If I even got to have half his career, I would be proud.
“I’m just glad to be learning from Robbie here every day, and there is no better player to be learning from as a striker.”
Connolly joined up with the squad after his heroics in Brighton’s 3-0 Premier League win over Tottenham, and has already had a chance to take a few pointers from the former Spurs hitman.
Asked what he has learned to date, he said: “He had a 20-odd year year and I’m just starting out. Everything he says, I will listen to and quite well because he knows what he is on about.
“He scored goals every week for Spurs, Liverpool, West Ham, et cetera. I look up to Robbie and to be training under him here is quite surreal.”
Connolly’s big moment arrived with 11 minutes remaining in Tbilisi when, with his family watching from the stands, he was sent on in the hunt for a late winner.
He very nearly found it too, testing keeper Giorgi Loria with a 90th-minute snapshot and then screwing a second effort wide in stoppage time when he might have done better.
For all his late contribution illuminated a pedestrian — at least in terms of creativity — Irish performance, he was a disappointed man as he reflected on what might have been.
Asked what McCarthy had said to him after the final whistle, he said: “Just ‘well done’ and ‘congratulations’, and talking about the chances.
“He has looked after me since I’ve come in. He has spoken to me quite a bit. He brought me in and to give me that chance, it’s a bit disappointing not to pay it back with a goal and a win, but we’ll take a point and move on.”