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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 5 December, 2019
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'I wasn’t that fast before I broke my leg but when I came back I was like Usain Bolt!'

Bray Wanderers winger Dylan Connolly has been one of the players lighting up the league this season.

Connolly celebrates a goal, with team-mate Aaron Greene in the background.
Connolly celebrates a goal, with team-mate Aaron Greene in the background.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

CORK CITY HAVE so far been an unstoppable force in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, but Bray Wanderers are out to bring their 100% record to an end tonight [7.45pm].

“I’m looking forward to upsetting the party!” declares Seagulls winger Dylan Connolly. “It’s been too easy for Cork so someone has to take three points off them and hopefully it will be us.

“We’ve been doing well and we’re a high-scoring team so we could be the ones to cause an upset. I don’t think they will expect us to be as good as we are.”

And they wouldn’t be the first ones to underestimate Bray this season. With heavy investment over the past two years, the Wicklow club has assembled a squad with plenty of experience and know-how at this level.

After a sixth-place finish in 2016, a quartet of Gary McCabe, Anto Flood, Aaron Greene and Keith Buckley were added and all have settled in well — McCabe currently leads the league’s goalscoring charts on 11 goals.

Of their seven victories thus far, wins over Derry City, Shamrock Rovers and champions Dundalk have been the most impressive and Harry Kenny’s men sit joint-second in the table — level on points with the Lilwhites.

“If you look at the players we have, I don’t think it’s that much of a surprise,” Connolly told The42 this week. “After the run we went on at the end of last season, I was expecting bigger things this year.

“With the money that the club has spent, we want to pay them back with European football. That was the aim but we’ve had a few tough matches and won them so now we’re just taking each game as it comes.

“We’ve got a lot of home games coming up after Cork so if we get a good run going, you never know what can happen.

“You saw Leicester City last year, it’s just about momentum driving you on.”

While they’ve looked suspect at the back on occasions, some of the football on show further up the pitch has been breathtaking at times. The sweeping move from defence to attack for Connolly’s goal against the Hoops is a joy to watch.

Connolly goal Rovers Source: YouTube/FAI TV

“We can mix it up,” explains Connolly. “People are expecting me and [Aaron] Greener to run in behind but we can drop in deep for Gar [McCabe] to feed us the ball. So we’re unpredictable in that way — we’ve got a Plan A, B and C — and it’s been working for us.”

Kenny is one of the nice guys of Irish football and it’s clear that he has got this group to buy into his ideas.

His man-management is top class,” adds the 21-year-old. “He’s just a top, top guy and you want to do well for him. He’s serious on the training pitch but he’s also an all-round nice man.”

As one of the most talented young players in the country, Connolly feels his game has kicked on under the current management team and credits them with improvements to the defensive side of it in recent weeks.

“If we’re going to win games, I have to do my job and it’s something I’ve been working on. Harry has been drilling it into me to track back and I enjoy it but I’d rather be attacking.”

It’s the Dubliner’s blistering pace, particularly on the counter-attack, that sets him apart from the rest and he’s got an unusual story from his childhood on the subject.

“Growing up, I was faster than everyone else,” he remembers. “I broke my leg twice when I was eight or nine and I was out of football for about a year-and-a-half. I wasn’t that fast before that but when I came back I was like Usain Bolt! It was weird.”

Originally living in Blanchardstown as a boy, Connolly’s family moved to Meath and he joined local club Johnstown. Then there were schoolboy spells at Cherry Orchard, Shelbourne, Home Farm and a brief stint with Bohemians’ U19s before he returned to Shels.

Patrick Nzuzi and Dylan Connolly In action for Shelbourne. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In 2013, then manager Johnny McDonnell gambled on the lightning-quick 17-year-old by handing him a senior debut.

“Johnny took a chance on me because of my pace. It was very difficult. I remember my first game and thinking ‘wow, this is different’. I was small and skinny, but I remember going through one-on-one with the last kick of the game and I scored. I just knew then that I could do it.

“I blossomed under him and I’ve never really looked back.”

After Shels’ relegation from the top flight, Connolly impressed in the First Division and caught the attention of several clubs in England.

There was a week-long trial with Manchester United as well as similar trips to Bolton Wanderers, Bright & Hove Albion and Wolves, but Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town appealed most to him.

Ipswich was full of Irish and it just felt like the right move at the time.”

Connolly became a regular for the Championship outfit’s U21s and featured on the bench for the first team a number of times. However, an ankle injury stunted his progress and three more wingers arrived while he was sidelined.

Ipswich Town v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Portman Road Ipswich Town boss Mick McCarthy. Source: Nigel French

“I enjoyed my time there and it was the best thing I’ve ever done,” says Connolly. “I became a better player — technically and tactically — and matured a lot.

“But I’m not one for sitting in the background. I was playing for the Ireland U21s regularly and I went to the manager and said ‘I need to play games as I’m not happy sitting here’.

“He told me Shamrock Rovers wanted to take me out on loan, and I said I’d speak to them. It was an international break and I went home and chatted to a few clubs.”

Ipswich agreed to pay Connolly out of the final year of his contract and he returned to Ireland, where there was no shortage of interest. In the end, he opted for the Seagulls.

“I would have signed for Cork if my missus wasn’t pregnant,” he admits. “I had been away for a year so I didn’t really want to commute with a baby [on the way].

“Rovers wasn’t what I was looking for money-wise and Bray sorted me out, really. I haven’t looked back and it has been a good move.”

Dylan Connolly celebrates scoring Connolly is capped for Ireland at U21 level. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He’s been happy with how things have panned out so far at Bray, but the plan long-term is to knuckle down and earn a return to England.

Connolly believes the achievements of players like Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle can only benefit those currently playing in the League of Ireland.

“Those lads are doing people like me a favour when they go over and succeed. It attracts more interest to the league and managers want to look at what’s on offer.

It’s good to see them doing well and it drives me on because it can be done. I’m very confident in what I can do.”

There’s an unwavering self-belief about him as well as a steely determination to become the league’s top player.

“I feel I have all the attributes, I just need to score more goals,” he accepts. “I’m a wide man so I provide them more than score them but I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to score. I’ve four from 10 matches at the minute, but I should have more.”

Predictions

Every week, we’re giving readers the chance to take us on in predicting the Premier Division results. After Week 10, here are the standings:

The Readers: 31
The42: 30

Next up is John Kyne from Galway…

The Reader (John Kyne)

Bohemians v Finn Harps – Draw
Cork City v Bray Wanderers – Cork win 
Derry City v St Patrick’s Athletic - Derry win 
Drogheda United v Sligo Rovers – Draw
Galway United v Dundalk – Galway win
Shamrock Rovers v Limerick – Draw

The42 (Ben Blake)

Bohemians v Finn Harps – Bohemians win
Cork City v Bray Wanderers – Cork win 
Derry City v St Patrick’s Athletic – Derry win
Drogheda United v Sligo Rovers – Draw
Galway United v Dundalk – Dundalk win
Shamrock Rovers v Limerick – Draw

If you’d like to try your hand at forecasting League of Ireland results, get in touch by e-mailing pauldollery@the42.ie

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Ben Blake

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