The stats that show Ireland NEED to start that man Aaron Connolly
You could have predicted Ireland vs Georgia from a mile away.
A victory would have left Ireland needing just two draws from their remaining two fixtures.
But they played for the draw. The 0-0 result in Tbilisi leaves Mick McCarthy's men needing a win in their remaining two games in Group 2. Sadly, in Switzerland and Denmark, the toughest is yet to come.
So here's where we are now.
In the six qualifying games played so far, Ireland have averaged a goal a game. They have taken a total of 60 shots, with an accuracy rate of 37%.
The mark of the best teams and finishers in world football is that they put up extraordinary shot numbers to ensure that a good percentage of those end up in the back of the net. At the moment, Ireland just aren't getting enough shots away and that's where Aaron Connolly comes into it all.
In five Premier League appearances so far, he's conjured up nine shots with four ending up on target, for a shooting accuracy of 56% – who can forget those two brilliant strikes against Spurs?
He made a noticeable impact after coming on, demonstrating maturity beyond his years. One can only speculate as to the impact he could have made were he brought on earlier in the Georgian capital.
For Irish fans watching, the game was nondescript up until the young Castlegar man's introduction in the 78th minute.
With seconds left of the 90 minutes, James McClean swung a pass into the Georgian box which was improperly dealt with by Aburjania, before Connolly pounced on the deflection to get a shot away.
"So sharp!.. he's alive, but that's what we've missed all night," said Ronnie Whelan on RTE 2.
Right he was.
Then, in the 92nd minute, Glenn Whelan lobbed a line-breaking pass to set Connolly off to the races with two Georgian defenders to his right – the resulting shot was skewed wide but only just.
At least, he was putting himself in the shop window.
He always has done, as Connolly's former Mervue United coach Ollie Neary told SportsJOE recently.
"When Aaron was 15, he was on our under-17 team," said Neary.
"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 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..."
One can argue that he should've done better with the chances he had after coming on, but the thing to note here is that he was able to get into positions to have chances to work with in the first place. Ireland were barely ticking over in terms of offensive productivity and Connolly quite literally produced an uptick for the team with his introduction.
Is he a young lad? Yes. But does that make him incompetent and inept to start? Absolute not. The young Galwegian has momentum going for him, he may be only 19 but he's got a tangible quality that can get arses off seats and cheers rippling from throats. He's got the line-breaking pace and directness that Ireland's attack desperately needed against Georgia.
In football circles, youth are often castigated for their lack of 'experience', as if games are to be won on experience alone. Imagine if every coach in history had valued experience over youth and exuberance? Would the world have seen the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Owen, OG Ronaldo, Mbappe, Sancho, Busquets (the list is certainly not exhaustive) play and achieve the careers they did?
John Cryuff, the man who rewrote the footballing books with his teachings on possession football and positional play, the man who put Barcelona on the map both as a player and more so as a coach, the man who played as part of the 'total football' marauding Dutch team of the 1970's – that man always championed youth. He was a firm believer of giving youth products a firm pathway into the first team and look at where it has taken Barcelona the club and the brand in the decades that have followed.
In fact, when a certain Pep Guardiola himself was coming up through the La Masia academy at Barca, Cruyff was disgruntled when people despite labelling Pep as "one of the best" players, left him to play for the third youth team. Cruyff insisted that he instead be put in the reserve team saying:
"If we lose, we lose. We need to create footballers."
As it turns out, Guardiola did quite well. Wouldn't you say?
The point to be arrived at here is not that Connolly is the panacea to all of Ireland's offensive malaise or that this young lad will singlehandedly march Ireland into the promised land of the Euros, but rather that McCarthy has an opportunity here. A chance to unleash a budding, visceral talent upon the Swiss defence, a chance to grab the bull by the horns and pry a possible win, a chance to develop a possible world-class talent to benefit not only his national team but the beautiful game in general.
Recently, in an interview, Connolly spoke about his two goal performance against Spurs saying:
"Now I’m hungry for more and want to play against bigger and better players in the future.”
At the end of the day, McCarthy calls the shots but it's fair to say that the Irish public would like the simple request of 19-year-old Aaron Connolly lining up top against Switzerland on Tuesday night.
Nothing more, nothing less.