Ireland midfielder Conor Hourihane was full of praise for Brighton striker Aaron Connolly after his recent promotion to the senior side following his impressive start to life in the Premier League.
Connolly was handed his first Premier League start against Tottenham last weekend and became the first Irish teenager to score a brace in the top flight since Robbie Keane in 1999 as he ran the Spurs defence ragged in a 3-0 win.
An injury to Portsmouth’s Ronan Curtis the same weekend meant that Connolly was called up to the senior side from the U21 setup by Mick McCarthy.
Speaking on Tuesday, as the Boys in Green prepare for two crucial away games against Georgia and Switzerland, Hourihane outlined that Connolly’s two goals against Tottenham came as “no surprise” to him having played previously played Brighton in the League Cup.
“Yeah fantastic for him, it’s always great for the Irish setup when there are lads doing well.
“I played against him a couple of weeks before that in the cup against Brighton. He played 60 minutes in that game and he gave our two centre halves a tough, tough night. So you know, when he was banging in the few goals at the weekend it was no surprise to me.
“He’s got that energy and that work ethic to give centre halves a tough tough day at the office. He did that on Saturday against Spurs at the weekend, so I was delighted to see it.”
Connolly had been putting in promising cameos for Brighton even before Saturday’s tremendous display and despite McCarthy outlining previously that Georgia away isn’t a game for debutants, the 19-year-old has played his way firmly into contention.
Hourihane is confident that, should Connolly be called up in Tbilisi on Saturday, then he will be more than capable of coping with the challenges of international football.
“Everyone who’s in the squad, the gaffer obviously feels they can make an impact and push everyone for positions.
“Listen if you’re in the squad, that automatically says you’re good enough to play. So, no worries for Aaron or for anyone in the squad.”
The 28-year-old, as he previously mentioned, has first-hand experience of the threat Connolly can cause, having played against him in Aston Villa’s 3-1 victory over Brighton in the League Cup.
Connolly failed to find the scoresheet in the game but managed to hit the woodwork twice and Hourihane pinpointed the qualities the young striker possesses, admitting that he was “delighted” when he was substituted in the game.
“He was a nuisance, I’ll be honest that night (against Villa in the cup), I was delighted when he went off. He runs channels really well, he chases lost causes, doesn’t give the centre halves any time on the ball, really quick, really sharp.
“Like I said he was a nuisance really, he could have got a couple of goals that night, I think he hit the crossbar, and he just gives defenders a tough night.
“I’d imagine when he went off, our centre halves were delighted as well. He’s a good prospect that’s for sure.”