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'It's my proudest moment in football by far, I'm just disappointed not to finish it with a goal'

Aaron Connolly reflects on his senior debut for Ireland.

THE GEORGIAN FA’S Twitter account summed it up: “Almost the headline writers’ dream – Aaron Connolly is set clean through… Thankfully he hits the side-netting!” 

Connolly has made waves even in Tbilisi this week – a local journalist yesterday asked McCarthy if the Brighton striker would make his debut in today’s game – and thus the locals were attuned to the perfect tale of Connolly’s senior debut delivering Ireland a precious three points. 

Ultimately, however, Connolly and Ireland were denied in a goalless draw that leaves Ireland with lots of work to do to qualify for Euro 2020 from Group D. (The exact permutations will be clearer once Denmark and Switzerland have finished later this evening.)

For Connolly, a frustrating result did not diminish the gleam from his senior debut. 

aaron-connolly-dejected-at-the-final-whistle Aaron Connolly reacts to the full-time whistle on his debut. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s mad”, Connolly told reporters of the experience. “I’m proud obviously. My family came over to watch today and it’s my proudest moment in football by far. I’m just disappointed not to finish it with a goal and three points but overall I think it was a good performance.” 

Although he had to bide his time from the bench, Connolly put that time to good use. “I’m watching the opposition and the two centre-halves and seeing what they are like and how I can get in and around them”, said Connolly.

“Robbie Keane had a word with me coming on, saying to keep an eye on the two centre-halves and there is no better person to learn off. When I did come on, I had an idea what they were like.”

Although he is only 19, Connolly said he felt ready to step up to senior international level. “I would say yes. The confidence levels are quite high because of last week and I felt if I came on I would make an impact. I feel like I did, but at the end of the day I feel like I should have scored as well. It’s disappointing.”

For all of his perception on the pitch, Connolly has been ignorant of the hype surrounding him away from it.

“I wouldn’t [pay attention to it.] Different players get hyped at different stages and it’s being talked about since last week but I don’t take much notice.

“I just want to go out there and do the business on the pitch and if everyone decides that I’m good enough to be talked about on social media or whatever, well, good. But I just want to concentrate on the football as that is my job.” 

A recurring theme amid the hype are the comparisons to Robbie Keane – most recently posited by Richard Dunne.

“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 off Robbie here every day and there is no better player to be learning off as a striker.

Yeah, [I'm learning] different bits because he had a 20-odd year career 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, etc. I look up to Robbie and to be training under him here is quite surreal.

“It’s up to the gaffer and his staff. If he does choose to play me I want to repay that trust. If not, I’ll have to be ready to come on and try and impact the game in some way.” 

Whether Connolly’s next appearance comes next week or further down the line, he is impatient for it. “I cannot wait for the next game. Just for another chance at goal and another chance at international football and the chance to take part in another game for my country.

I think every striker looks forward to the next game, especially when they have missed a couple of chances. I’m no different.” 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi

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