Parrott, Obafemi and Connolly find different struggles for lasting success

On loan MK Dons striker earned praise for his honesty this week, but decisions of his peers to stay away could prove equally beneficial in long run.

PAT JENNINGS SAW the good in Troy Parrott early on.

The Tottenham Hotspur legend, who continues to work as a goalkeeping coach consultant at the club’s academy, was won over by the young Dubliner’s infectious attitude around the training ground following his full-time move to north London in the summer of 2018.

He had been on Spurs’ radar – and every other top club in Britain – from his early teens with Belvedere, yet it was another shade of blue he wore in an U14 tournament organised by the Northern Ireland FA.

His displays for Everton alerted scouts throughout the UK, and prompted Spurs to invite the striker to another underage competition in Belgium with their U16s.

Parrott impressed again, not least Maurizio Pochettino, son of then first-team manager Mauricio, who was a teammate in that youth side and provided his father with a glowing report.

The kid from Buckingham Street in the north inner city was finding his way, and when he did eventually begin to settle into life in England, Jennings was on hand to provide some guidance as he navigated a new environment.

pat-jennings-obe Pat Jennings helped Parrott during his early Spurs days. Philip Magowan / INPHO Philip Magowan / INPHO / INPHO

“He is one of the boys who will come in with a big smile on his face every day, he will see you and come over to say hello. He is someone that you hope can go on and have a really great career in the game at the level that he is capable of playing at,” Jennings said previously.

“Troy is ahead of his age group, the talent is right in front of you. He’s not getting comfortable with everything he has because I think he knows what he’s capable of achieving. He is a focused boy, he has determination.

“He is just one of those boys that you wish will do well because of that work ethic. There will be times when you might have a little word on the training pitch, you might ask him why he does what he does in a certain situation with a certain finish and try to advise him a bit about what a goalkeeper might be thinking in that same situation.

“He will always listen to you. He has sharp instincts, though, Troy knows what he’s doing.”

This was February 2020, and the reason those words from Jennings sprang to mind this week is because of Parrott’s blunt appreciation of how quickly a promising career can quickly fizzle out, and that even what he was doing to make a good impression would not be enough to sustain a lengthy career in the game.

troy-parrott Parrott in action for Ireland last year. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Now 20 and benefitting from a loan spell with MK Dons in League One after a period with Millwall in the Championship, which he admitted was “a shock to the system”, the Ireland forward elaborated on his new-found clarity.

“Football is a weird sport. Anything can happen at any time. It is just realising that it is not as easy as I thought at 16, 17 that it was going to be,” he said on Monday, with goalkeeper Mark Travers sitting beside him in the press conference room at FAI headquarters.

“At the time I thought I was on the right track but even now I still think I am on the right track. Maybe at this age I would have liked to have played more games for Tottenham, but it hasn’t gone like that.

“I am where I am today. Where I wanted to be at 17 is still where I want to be now. Nothing changed in that regards. I am still striving towards that.

I just realised that ultimately you get one shot at this football game, and where I was at the time wasn’t helping me get to where I wanted to get to, and I realised I just needed to do more.

“It’s a good thing that I’ve realised that it can go one of two ways. The way I want to go is up.”

Parrott has one more year on his Tottenham contract and will return for talks on his future this summer.

His openness this week comes at a time three of Ireland’s most promising young forwards find themselves in contrasting, and equally delicate, periods in their careers.

And this is without even mentioning the injury blow suffered by Norwich City’s Adam Idah, who was beginning to find consistency in the Premier League before a meniscus injury ruled him out for the rest of this season.

Instead, ahead of the double-header of friendlies, which kicks off against Belgium on Saturday before Lithuania come to Dublin on Tuesday, there is chatter centring around Parrott, Michael Obafemi and Aaron Connolly.

troy-parrott-and-aaron-connolly Troy Parrott (left) with Aaron Connolly. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

And such is the nature of discourse within international windows, it’s no surprise that two of those mentioned are not even here.

Injury has prevented the latter duo from joining up. Such is the nature of a heel problem afflicting Connolly, he is not even training between games while on loan with Middlesbrough, as Chris Wilder bids for a play-off spot.

It meant he remained in England’s north east to recuperate, with Kenny explaining when he named his squad last Friday how “we’re not in a position to let him come in for a week and not train and maybe play. He himself feels he needs to sort his heel out and the medical people want him to sort his heel issue out.”

Obafemi has a similar issue, Kenny adding: “I think there’s a degree of anxiety around Michael himself about being injured.

“The truth of it is that Michael has never played three games in a row before this year for his club, as far as I know. He’s not played three games consecutively in his career, and the reason for that really is because of his persistent hamstring troubles he’s had in his career.

“He’s concerned about re-injuring coming into the international team and trying to train every day and play and play again.”

michael-obafemi-with-his-mother-bola-and-brother-affy-after-the-game Michael Obafemi with his mother Bola and brother Affy after his senior Ireland debut. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Considering Connolly only turned 22 in January and Obafemi is still just 21, it is a reminder that while it is encouraging for Parrott to have that clarity of thought in his own mind about where he wants to go in his career, professional athletes are still beholden on their bodies being up to the task of taking them there.

In the short term it may seem detrimental to Obafemi and Connolly’s international prospects, especially if Parrott can seize another opportunity over this window.

Their choices may antagonise some, but if they are made with a view to ensuring longevity throughout gruelling careers, then they too should be applauded for possessing similar foresight to Parrott.

Connolly showed sporadic flashes of his talent under Kenny already – most notably away to Portugal in Faro – but has also frustrated and by the end of the World Cup qualifiers was on the fringes.

Obafemi’s reticence is more surprising given he has yet to be part of the current senior set-up, one which he has made clear to both Kenny and U21 boss Jim Crawford he feels he should now belong.

It could have happened this week, his form for Swansea City warranting the call, but the timing wasn’t right for him as he continues to win the type of battles that remain beyond 90 minutes of action.

Early promise is no use if it cannot be cultivated into lasting success.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel