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'His career has sort of stood still' - Stephen Kenny hints Aaron Connolly needs loan move away from Brighton

Connolly has struggled to break into the Brighton starting team and is yet to score for Ireland.

Aaron Connolly reacts during last month's draw with Azerbaijan.
Aaron Connolly reacts during last month's draw with Azerbaijan.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

STEPHEN KENNY HAS hinted he would like to see Aaron Connolly take at least a loan move away from Brighton in order to fulfil his potential. 

Connolly has yet to score a senior goal for Ireland in eight appearances, but Kenny rates him very highly. The manager has started him in every game for which he has been available, and estimated last month that Connolly has thus far only shown 70% of his true potential. 

Yesterday marked two years to the day since Connolly burst on the scene by scoring twice against Spurs on his full Premier League debut, but the striker has struggled to kick on from there: he has scored just thrice in his 38 Premier League appearances since.

Connolly did score twice in the League Cup win over Swansea last month, but he has struggled to break into Brighton’s first-choice XI and has yet to make a Premier League start this season. 

Though Kenny has stuck by Connolly, he substituted him at half-time of the 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan last month, admitting the decision was a tactical one. (Connolly was ruled out of the subsequent game with Serbia through injury.)

“I didn’t take him off because of injury”, said Kenny, “but subsequently he did have a scan and had a muscle injury. That’s why he wasn’t involved in the second game [against Serbia.].

“He found it hard to get regular game time at Brighton, his career has sort of stood still over that period. When he burst on the scene he was in brilliant form for the U21 team, scored two on his debut [against Spurs].

“It’s not been easy for him since, to get back in. Sometimes they play with one striker, you’ve got two other international strikers playing ahead of him. You’ve got to wait for opportunities as well. He scored two goals in the Carabao Cup: I was at the game. Two good goals, but he’s not really figured since.

“Opportunities are difficult in the Premier League, some of the younger strikers get to go in the Championship on loan. We were looking at the Swedish U21 striker who was at Brighton who has got a lot of goals [on loan] for Coventry. Viktor Gykores. He played against us in the U21s.

“He got an opportunity to go on loan in Europe [to St Pauli of Germany] and come back to Championship. Sometimes staying still as a striker as a number three, it’s difficult to progress. Someone like Troy Parrott, even though he’s gone down to League One, he’s finding his feet, getting a few goals and learning the game.” 

As an Irish striker struggling to score goals at international level, Connolly is far from alone: of the eight forwards named in the squad for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan, only James Collins has scored a competitive goal for Ireland. (And he’s scored just one – away to Serbia.) 

While he too has yet to score, Adam Idah impressed in the previous international window, but has started just a single League Cup tie for Norwich since. 

“Adam Idah, I felt performed really well in the previous internationals and actually got at least one Man of the Match award”, said Kenny.

“He led the line well and ran the channels and offered a threat with his pace in a lot of the games, and obviously his header was inches wide against Azerbaijan in the home game.
He’s frustrated himself. It certainly bothers him that he hasn’t scored yet, but he’s giving us an awful lot of attributes. He is the highest goalscorer we have all our underage teams in our history.

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“He’s the record Irish goalscorer through the underage teams, so he is a natural goalscorer, but he just hasn’t been able to take one for the senior international team yet. I’m sure that’s a matter of time.

“It’s nearly like he’s developed in the international team really because he’s found minutes hard to get at Norwich. He obviously got injured playing against Wales in Cardiff – that ruled him out for four months in Norwich’s promotion push last year and he only came back toward the end of the season.

adam-idah Adam Idah in action against Serbia. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He had a good pre-season, scored four goals, but has found it difficult to get into the team at the moment at Norwich, so his main performances have been obviously in the Carabao Cup against Liverpool, where he started in that match, and the three internationals, of course. Ideally we’d want our young players playing more frequently and all our players playing more frequently. That’s what we want, but sometimes that’s not possible.”

One new face who may alleviate the goalscoring issue is Wigan’s Will Keane, called up for the first time since declaring for Ireland in 2019. Keane has five goals thus far for Wigan, though Kenny hinted he is unlikely to start in Baku.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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