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'Dream come true' - 17-year-old Connell's Bolton Wanderers debut in FA Cup win

Luca Connell became the first player born this millennium to play first-team football for the club.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND underage international Luca Connell says it was a “dream come true” to make his first-team debut for Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

Connell was introduced as a late substitute for Luke Murphy as the Championship strugglers booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Walsall.

Luca Connell Luca Connell pictured before Ireland's game against Bosnia & Herzegovina at last year's U17 European Championship. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

While he was only afforded a few minutes of game-time in the 5-2 victory, a first taste of senior action for his club represented a significant step in the right direction for the 17-year-old midfielder, who can also operate as a full-back.

Connell became the first player born this millennium to feature in a competitive game for Bolton Wanderers, a club he first joined at the age of nine.

“Dream come true to [have] made my senior debut today in the FA Cup against Walsall,” he wrote on Twitter. “Couldn’t [have] done this without the help from the team, my friends and family and the supporters. Hopefully many more to come.”

The Liverpool-born youngster has been making progress recently by featuring regularly for Bolton’s U23s. He has also captained the club’s U18 side.

“He is a good player and trains with the first-team often,” Bolton boss Phil Parkinson said of Connell after Saturday’s game. “He has done well in the U23s and we are very pleased with his progress.”

After Connell played for Bolton’s first-team last July in a pre-season friendly against Halifax Town, U18 manager Nicky Spooner told The Bolton News: “I’ve known Luca since he was eight years old. We signed him at nine, when we could, and he’s come all the way through the system.

“He’s a Liverpool lad, so we had to get ahead of the bigger clubs over there. We took him in but they’ve been sniffing at him for years and recognise his talent.” 

On the international scene, Connell helped Ireland’s U18s to victories over Belgium and the Netherlands at an Invitational Tournament in Spain back in November. Earlier in 2018, he was a member of the U17 squad that reached the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

Connell is the second player from that U17 crop to make a first-team club debut in England in the space of a week. Cork-born midfielder Adam O’Reilly featured for Preston North End in their 1-1 draw with Aston Villa in the Championship.  

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Paul Dollery

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