Aaron Connolly “only 70% of his potential” as he is supported to thrive with Ireland


Aaron Connolly could be the most exhilarating Irish footballer of his generation.

It could also be the culprit for leading you to premature baldness because you will have pulled out so much hair looking at it.

Take his performance in Portugal on Wednesday night, for example.

On the one hand, he was a constant threat on the block and stretched Portugal’s defense. On the other hand, you had no confidence in him to score.

His match sharpness is not yet there after just one substitute appearance for Brighton this season.

He missed the opener against Burnley for the personal season and the hope is that lack of playing time doesn’t become a constant concern.

At Faro, Connolly’s self-confidence also seemed shattered by poor decision-making and rushed shots when it mattered most as he chased his first senior goal.

Aaron Connolly calls for penalty in Portugal

Then there’s his penchant for hitting the deck under tackles. It certainly doesn’t go unnoticed and raises the question “Is Aaron Connolly a diver?”

If so, does this streak in his game need to be ironed out?

Or, given that Ireland haven’t won a penalty since Robbie Brady scored against France in the Euro 2016 final, should Stephen Kenny just let him?

After a physically and mentally exhausting night in the Algarve, Kenny has vowed to refresh the squad for today’s clash with Azerbaijan.

Callum Robinson has recovered from Covid and returns to the squad and is aiming for a start today given his three league goals for West Brom already this season.

The same goes for Daryl Horgan, another Kenny favorite during the Dundalk era. But Connolly could keep his place as the manager’s confidence in his talents is unwavering.

But when asked whether Connolly throws himself too much or not, Kenny said yesterday: “Aaron has a low center of gravity.

“And the way he dribbles to the beat, he’s always going to invite tackles. Because he’s so quick, he will inevitably get his fair share of free kicks and penalties.

“It’s an incredible statistic that Ireland haven’t had a penalty kick since Euro 2016.”

Kenny said: “VAR was not available for the game against Serbia in March, but reruns concluded it was a final penalty for him to go 2-1 with 20 minutes left.

“In Portugal, most people think that Aaron’s fault in the second half, when the defender crossed his back, was a penalty to go up 2-0.

“How it was not given, when so many other decisions were sent back to the VAR, was a mystery to me. But I think Aaron Connolly is only about 70% of his potential right now.

Aaron Connolly trains at Aviva Stadium

It was following his U21 performances for Kenny that Mick McCarthy handed Connolly his salute to Georgia and Switzerland during the Euro 2020 campaign.

But his senior career has since been cut short, with injuries playing a big part before the in-flight / Covid debacle denied him a role in the Slovakia playoffs.

“There’s so much more to him,” Kenny continued. “He did a great job for us the other night.

“The way we set up, we overloaded with Jamie McGrath coming in from the right side position to create 3v2 situations in midfield.

“We isolated the position between Cancelo and Pepe because we knew there was a big gap there because Cancelo is so offensive.

“Aaron drilled holes in that left channel all night and was an outlet for us all night. He carried the ball with such a pace.

“But because he hasn’t played consistently, and other issues, I think he can be so much better.

“He has a lot of potential, but we have to nurture him and try to make him realize that. “

Aiming for three vital points tonight, Kenny added: “We need good attacking play and we are not tied to a system for every game.”

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