Aaron Connolly is good enough to start against Switzerland: Shane Duffy
2020 European Qualifying Group D: Georgia 0 Republic of Ireland 0
REPUBLIC of Ireland defender Shane Duffy believes his Brighton team-mate Aaron Connolly has the big-game mentality to start against Group D rivals Switzerland in Geneva tomorrow night.
Connolly’s name was on everybody’s lips after Saturday’s scoreless draw in Georgia. Apart from John Egan’s flicked header that came off Georgia’s post after just four minutes, the Republic didn’t cause any stress to their hosts’ goal until Connolly’s 78th minute introduction.
The U21 star, who hit two goals against Tottenham Hotspur last week, had two late efforts on Georgia’s goal in the short space of time he was on the field and could be in line for his first senior start against the Swiss.
“No problem for him,” insisted Duffy.
“He’s mature for his age. He’s playing in the Premier League, you all seen him against Tottenham. He thrives off big moments, he thrives off big games and that’s what he wants.
“He loves scoring goals and he always will, whatever level he plays at and hopefully for Ireland. But you can’t put too much pressure on him, he’s only a kid... So let him ease into it and hopefully in five or ten years’ time, we’re talking about a great player.”
With first-choice striker David McGoldrick also ruled out of contention for the Swiss clash due to injury and James Collins struggling to make an impact on his competitive debut in Georgia, there is every chance Connolly will start in Geneva.
“I’m looking after him. He’s a great kid,” Duffy added.
“I’m just trying to keep his feet on the ground. I’m delighted for him. It’s been coming. I’ve been working with him now for two years and he’s been unlucky not to be playing more with us. That’s him in now, he’s got a big future ahead of him.
“I thought he made the difference when he came on. I don’t like playing him in training every day. I think you have to be patient, let him grow into it. He's only had one start in his whole career in league football (and four substitute appearances for Brighton). But the future is bright for him.”
Duffy also believes the Republic didn’t come close to reaching their potential on Saturday evening in the Georgian capital and his hoping for a much improved display against the Swiss who fell to a late goal in Denmark and lie in third spot.
A win tomorrow night would see Mick McCarthy’s men qualify for next summer’s 12-city European Championships. A draw or a defeat and the Irish will almost certainly need to beat Denmark in their final Group D game in Dublin on November 18.
“I know we’re better than that,” said the big Derry man.
“That’s the biggest disappointment for me. No matter what, you’re going to get lads giving everything, running around, the minimum we always give. But I thought we should have been better on the ball.”
Duffy added: “It was our gameplan to go there and press them, dominate the ball and dominate them like the first game. But football is funny; you get those games when it it's not sticking. It was backs-against-the-wall. We’ll put it behind us, we have to take the positives from it, we’re still unbeaten, and why can’t we beat Switzerland?”
Duffy won his fitness race to play against Georgia and despite feeling “knackered” he says he’ll be ready for the Switzerland test.
Republic of Ireland ratings
Darren Randolph: Due to Georgia’s woeful shooting, Ireland’s number one was a virtual spectator for the entire night in Tbilisi. Well protected too by John Egan and Shane Duffy. 6
Seamus Coleman: The Ireland captain was put under serious pressure in the opening 30 minutes with the Georgian full-back making overlapping runs. A lot more comfortable in the second period. 5
Matt Doherty: Although he made some decent clearances in the first half, he didn’t look comfortable on his weaker side. The smart money is on Enda Stevens being brought back for the Switzerland game. 4
Shane Duffy: Headed everything that moved. Georgia kept feeding the bear with a lot of crosses finding his head. Could have been better in possession though. 6
John Egan: Saw his glancing header come off the post in the opening exchanges but that was the end of Ireland’s attacking threat until Connolly’s late introduction. Composed performance and looks a more accomplished central defender than the injured Richard Keogh. 6
Glenn Whelan: Hit a few untidy passes in the early stages but sensed the danger down Ireland’s right side in the opening half hour. Took a yellow card for the team but not biting opponents’ ankles as often as he has been doing. 5
Conor Hourihane: Knitted some passages of play in the opening half and it was his set piece that created Egan’s chance, but lost his way after the break. 5
Jeff Hendrick: Started brightly by running at the Georgian defence but the wheels came off before half-time. His work-rate was high throughout but some of his passes were lamentable. 4
Callum Robinson: Poor back-to-back performances now. Seems to lack personality in tough moments and was too easily lost to the game. Played a bit narrow and by doing so left Coleman exposed in the first half. 3
James Collins: Laboured from start to finish and didn’t have the mobility to close the Georgian defence down. Surprised he lasted 78 minutes as his number was up soon after half-time. 3
James McClean: Cut a frustrated figure throughout the night. Threw his hands up in the air once too often to his team-mates. Final ball was poor, especially in the first half when he was under no pressure. 4
Alan Browne: Had one decent possession but made little impact. 4
Aaron Connolly: Entered the fray after 78 minutes. Should have been on after 55. Carved out two chances and enlivened the Irish attack no end. 6
Derrick Williams: Not on long enough to be rated.