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05th Oct 2019

80 minutes in dreamland: STATS for Aaron Connolly’s delightful debut

Niall McIntyre

A livewire.

A lynch pin.

A finisher.

The best thing about Aaron Connolly’s full Premier League debut was that he got better as the game went on.

The youngest Irish goalscorer in the Premier League since Michael Obafemi. Before that, it was Damien Duff. The future is bright. Mick McCarthy needs to get the finger out. He needs to get Ireland’s best forward on the Ireland squad. It’s not that difficult.

Aaron Connolly arrived in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon. His first start, his first goal. He wanted one more too.

This young Galway fella of just 19 years is only getting started. The best is yet to come.

But this was some beginning to the story. To score in front of a home crowd. Not just to score, but to impress for every minute he was on the pitch. Aaron Connolly, the stocky little forward from the west of Ireland with the deft touch and the breakneck speed, was given a standing ovation in the south of England.

Aaron Connolly, made in Galway, born for the Premier League.

Has a nice ring to it. We could get used to this.

He was on his way to giving Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld nightmares from early doors. Yes, his first touch of the ball went askew but Connolly never looks for the sideways or backwards pass.

This fella has ambition lining his every move. He had plenty of them in the first half.

On the ball 11 times in the opening period, the former Mervue United player’s touch and link-up play was top class. His passing was crisp and incisive. On the below map, each touch is charted with an orange circle. The green ticks indicate a positive play, an ex indicates giving the ball away.

There were a couple of brilliant moments.

  • 7′ – Connolly’s second touch came down near the corner flag. A touch too quick for Moussa Sissoko, Connolly’s fast feet won his team a free.
  • 22′ – Won a header off Toby Alderweireld, who has four inches on him, that cushioned brilliantly into the path of a Brighton teammate.
  • 29′ – Connolly’s pace has Sissoko in knots again. Should have got a free. Connolly got up and on with it.
  • 30′ – Barked at a teammate for not giving the ball to him quick enough. Confidence is no issue here.
  • 32′ – His first Premier League goal. A Drogba-esque flick almost beats Gazzaniga first time. A quick reaction to the rebound does beat him second time. See below.

Confidence is flowing through the man’s veins.

His was growing come the second half.

By now, Spurs were stretched and the space was more and more. Connolly was in dreamland.

We should probably have known. It was only last week when we were chatting to Connolly’s first coach at his boyhood club Mervue United. Ollie Neary was frustrated that Connolly’s effort was cleared off the line the week previous.

He ensured us however, that ‘it was only a matter of time.’ He recalled Connolly cutting in from the left and burying off the right as a youngster.

Raised in Galway, born for the Premier League – Ireland’s brightest prospect about to take off

Deja Vu. You’d better believe it. Aaron Connolly’s second goal is the type of strike that will light up Match of the Day tonight. As Irish soccer fans, we’ve been a while waiting to hear something like that.

An exhibition of confidence, dribbling and sharpshooting. Gazzaniga never stood a chance.

Never mind dispossess him, the Spurs defenders couldn’t lay a glove on the sprightly teenager in that second half. His touch and feet too quick, his head too smart. He ended his day having won three frees.

Eric Dier elbowed him to the head. Connolly stayed going. He felt his hamstring having ran himself into the ground. He went off to a standing ovation with the Amex Stadium singing his name.

His second half was even more polished than the first.

Aaron Connolly will never forget his first Premier League start, when he became the first Irish teenager to score two goals in a Premier League game since Robbie Keane for Coventry in 1999.

The first of firsts. The first of many. Aaron Connolly is here to stay.

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