Raised in Galway, born for the Premier League - Ireland's brightest prospect about to take off 1 year ago

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

Tall tale.

Mervue United Vs Dundalk in the Under-17 Irish Cup quarter final and the Galway side are on for a big one. 2-0 up with only a couple of minutes left. It's a matter of running the clock down now.

Ollie Neary has been in this position before. He's played in these kinds of games. The coach tells his players to close it out. It's against his nature but this is an exceptional circumstance. Mervue United are on their way to a cup semi-final.

Aaron Connolly, the team's star turn, hasn't got the message.

He picks up the ball on the wing and despite his coach and teammates' urges to head towards the corner to kill this one off, he has other ideas. Connolly sniffs a chance.

Dundalk are tired and defending is a long way from their minds. Goal is the only thing on Aaron Connolly's mind.

"He brought it in from the wing, beat a few men and buried it. That just summed Aaron up. So much confidence and trust in himself and he was well able to back it up too," Mervue United coach Ollie Neary tells SportsJOE.

That is the Aaron Connolly Ollie Neary knows.


Stephen Kenny was in the stands that night to keep an eye on Dundalk's rising talents. He'd found a bolter alright, but it wasn't a Dundalk man.

"Stephen has such a great eye for young players. He'd always be onto you and asking about lads. Aaron caught his eye that night, and it's brilliant that Stephen is working with him with the Ireland 20s now. He's a great coach and there are few men better to encourage young talents," adds Neary.

Neary more than played his part. Along with Damien Brennan and some great Mervue United people, the Galway city club gave Connolly a great grounding in the game, just like they have done and continue to do with so many of the best young talents in their neck of the woods.

Neary had been there before, a legendary Galway United midfielder, his achievements need no listing out west and it wasn't long before his young protege was following in those footsteps.

From Mervue United onto Galway, this mentor knew young Connolly was on for big things since the early days.

"When Aaron was 15, he was on our under-17 team. It's not often that would happen but he was special. He was in double figures in his first season with us, I can remember one game against Longford town when he scored eight goals. He always wanted to score.

"He had the hunger and desire for it from an early age. When other players might be waiting around the dressing room for training to start, Aaron would be up in the gym. He'd always be doing something different to try and improve himself. He has a relentless attitude and he's the type of lad who wouldn't be happy coming off the field without scoring. He has really high expectations for himself..."


Ollie Neary presents Connolly with an award back in the Mervue United days

And so does the whole of Ireland. But knowing the Connolly family well, Neary sees a 19-year-old focused and ambitious enough not to let the intense pressure and fanciful demands of modern day football get to his head.

"Aaron comes from a great family. His parents are brilliant. His two brothers Andrew and Ethan play with us too and they're ones for the future as well.

"It tells it all about him really that his manager over in Brighton trusts him to come on for 20 or 30 minutes ahead of the more senior players. He was unlucky at the weekend with that one cleared off the line but it's only a matter of time before the first goal comes and the sky is the limit for Aaron Connolly then..."

Aaron Connolly's brother Ethan (back, second from right) is one of the brightest talents in Mervue

"Everyone at Mervue United is delighted for him and proud of him. It's great to see him doing so well.

Connolly's time will come. And then Andrew and Ethan will be on the way too.