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Dublin: 9°C Sunday 29 November 2020
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Can Aaron Connolly succeed where most Irish strikers struggle?

The 20-year-old Galway native was on target against Newcastle last weekend.

Aaron Connolly celebrates his goal against Newcastle last weekend.
Aaron Connolly celebrates his goal against Newcastle last weekend.
Image: PA

IF YOU WERE to survey every Irish school kid in the country and ask for their dream job, being a striker in the Premier League would likely be one of the most popular answers.

Yet the chances of achieving it are about as remote as winning the lottery.

The following is a list of every Irish striker who has managed to play regularly, or even semi regularly, in the Premier League. For the sake of brevity, we’re discounting footballers in the old First Division as well as players who have made less than 10 appearances.

Bernie Slaven, Tony Cascarino, Niall Quinn, Lee Power, David Kelly, Keith O’Neill, Jon Goodman, Micky Evans, Dominic Foley, Robbie Keane, Gary Doherty (albeit he often played as a defender), Clinton Morrison, Jon Macken, David Connolly, Stephen Elliott, Daryl Murphy, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Noel Hunt, Caleb Folan, Roy O’Donovan, Anthony Stokes, Andy Keogh, Conor Sammon, Leon Best, Jon Walters, Simon Cox, Adam Idah, David McGoldrick, Aaron Connolly, Michael Obafemi and Callum Robinson.

So that’s 32 players in 29 seasons, and every single one deserves credit simply for reaching that level, even if it was short-lived in some instances.

To give a better sense of how hard it is not just to play, but to thrive, we’re now narrowing down the list to individuals who have lined out in the Premier League for five seasons or more (and excluding appearances in the old English First Division).

They are as follows: Niall Quinn, Robbie Keane, Gary Doherty, Clinton Morrison, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Jon Walters.

The goal tallies of those players vary considerably: Keane (126), Quinn (109 – including First Division goals), Long (55), Walters (43), Doyle (37), Morrison (15) and Doherty (6). 

So the statistics are against any young Irish striker coming into the English top flight.

Aaron Connolly, of course, wants to be an anomaly.

The Galway native scored with a fine finish in his side’s 3-0 win over Newcastle last weekend.

And he is certainly not short of confidence. He told Graham Potter at the start of the 2019-20 campaign he was ready to play in the Premier League and did not want another loan move following on from his brief and ill-fated Luton stint. Moreover, in an interview with The42 at the end of last season, he indicated his ambition was to score 100 Premier League goals, thereby doing what only Keane and Quinn (again, counting First Division strikes) have managed from the above list. And aside from that duo, Frank Stapleton is the only other Irish player in English football history to break the 100-goal barrier.

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At 20, Connolly has made 26 Premier League appearances, already putting him ahead of some of the names mentioned above.

He has sometimes been played in a wide role, particularly by Stephen Kenny, at U21 level and for the senior national side.

Yet the youngster views himself primarily as a striker and Connolly’s clinically taken goal against the Magpies strengthened the case for those who believe he will have a long-term future at the highest level.

However, having potential is one thing and doing it is very much another, as demonstrated by the array of players mentioned above who struggled to carve out a long-lasting career in the English top flight.

Playing and scoring against Manchester United in Saturday’s early kick-off would certainly go some way towards consolidating Connolly’s reputation as a striker of renown, while he may not be the only promising Irish youngster on display, with Graham Potter hinting during the week that midfielder Jayson Molumby could be in line for a Premier League debut.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures:

Saturday

Brighton v Man United (12.30)
Crystal Palace v Everton (15.00)
West Brom v Chelsea (17.30)
Burnley v Southampton (20.00)

Sunday

Sheffield United v Leeds (12.00)
Tottenham v Newcastle (14.00)
Man City v Leicester (16.30)
West Ham v Wolves (19.00)

Monday

Fulham v Aston Villa (17.45)
Liverpool v Arsenal (20.00)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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