Football/Soccer

Debut day hero Aaron Connolly gets reward with call-up to Mick McCarthy's Ireland squad

Brighton's Aaron Connolly celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during their Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur at the Falmer stadium on Saturday Picture by PA
Padraig O Meiscill

AARON Connolly’s debut day heroics against Tottenham earned an instant promotion after Mick McCarthy added the teenager to his Republic of Ireland squad for this month's Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Connolly scored twice for Brighton in Saturday's 3-0 win over last season’s Uefa Champions League finalists and got his reward after Portsmouth's Ronan Curtis was ruled out due to a hamstring injury.

Spurs were left shell shocked on the English south coast at lunchtime on Saturday and the 19-year-old Connolly, making his first Premier League start, was their chief destroyer, memorably hitting a brace.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men were already trailing 1-0 when they were cut open down the right just after the half-hour, with Connolly the first to Dan Burn's cross, forcing sub goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga into a smart low save. However, the Galway native was on hand to ram home the rebound for his first Premier League goal.

Twenty minutes into the second-half, Connolly was set clear by a long ball, allowed too much space by Toby Alderweireld and made the most of it by cutting inside and firing into the bottom corner.

While Spurs will not look back fondly on the game, Connolly will remember it forever and was pleased his father was there to witness it after he travelled over from Connacht on the morning of the match.

"I can't really describe it at the moment, I feel speechless and I don't think it will sink in for a while," Connolly said on Saturday night.

"I know I won't be sleeping this evening, I've been close to scoring in the last few matches but, thankfully, it's come and I've scored twice.

“It's the proudest moment of my career so far and, now, I want to push on for more. It made it even more special that it was at the Amex; my dad flew over to watch this morning in the hope that I'd start and I looked up to celebrate with him when I got the second goal.”

Connolly, who began his footballing career with Mervue United, added: "I'm so grateful for the hard work all my family have put in and it's great to know I've made them proud.

“They've dropped me to training and games when I was young and sat out in the cold watching me, so that was for them today as much as it was for me."

It was a near universally positive weekend for Irish players in the Premier League, with Jeff Hendrick scoring the winner for Burnley in Saturday’s win over Everton and Conor Hourihane grabbing a goal in Aston Villa’s 5-1 thrashing of Norwich. Yesterday, Matt Doherty came off the bench to help Wolves to a 2-0 away win over champions Manchester City.

The one black spot was Everton captain Séamus Coleman’s dismissal in that defeat to Burnley at Turf Moor.

Blackburn defender Derrick Williams, meanwhile, has been handed his first senior call-up following knee injuries sustained to Rovers team-mates Greg Cunningham and Darragh Lenihan in their side's defeat at QPR.

The Republic, top of qualifying Group D, face Georgia in Tbilisi this Saturday before an away clash with Switzerland next Tuesday.

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