This is why we can’t have nice things.
Ireland don’t really do underage stars. For a plethora of reasons, our players don’t break through to first team squads until they’re in their 20s.
This is the sort of youth development that led to Robbie Brady winning the FAI Young Player of the Year when he was almost 25 years of age back in 2016.
So when a genuine teenager breaks into a Premier League squad and scores on his debut, it’s worth getting properly excited over.
This is what happened with Aaron Connolly, when at just 19 years of age he scored a brace on his first Premier League start against Tottenham Hotspur.
Connolly hasn’t exactly kicked on from this point in his career, but it is very rare that a player reaches a consistent level of goalscoring form when they’re as young as he was.
Before he got injured towards the end of last season, out of all of the players 21 or younger to have scored in the Premier League since the start of the 2019/2020 season, only Mason Greenwood, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Pedro Neto had more goals than the former Oranmore man.
That was the company he was keeping just a couple of months ago.
Aaron Connolly deserves some credit in the bank
The most recent international break, and entirely unconfirmed rumours of off-the-pitch trouble, led to a lot of Ireland fans turning on the Galway man. Many wanted him taken out of the team, while Brian Kerr simply insisted he didn’t look right.
But that’s okay. He is 21. He will have games where he doesn’t look right. That doesn’t mean we should be giving up on him. We should be giving him a chance to learn and to improve, because the talent he has shown since he burst on to the scene means he deserves it.
He got himself two lovely goals against Swansea in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night, and if this was his first ever performance in professional football, Irish fans would understandably getting excited. A young, quick forward showing some clinical instincts at just 21 years of age?
But his situation is even better than that. His scoring has been sporadic, but since when are we in a position to turn our nose up at young talents playing in the Premier League?
When he’s fit, Graham Potter is always looking to get him on the pitch, and this is a manager who is set to have an extremely strong career in English football.
Stephen Kenny has promoted a lot of youth into the side since he became the Ireland manager, but we still have James Collins and Shane Long getting called up to the squad every time the international window comes around. Maybe the frustration should be directed at them, the players who are experienced, instead of the youngsters trying to stick the ball in the back of the net.
Aaron Connolly’s real problem
The biggest issue that Ireland and Brighton fans should be worried about is Connolly’s ability to keep fit.
He seems to be constantly injured, on the verge of getting injured, or coming back from an injury. He has tweeted in the past that he feels he has no problem with his fitness, but it is definitely concerning for a player of his age to be injured as often as he is.
If he can stay fit, he will have an excellent career, and hopefully shut a lot of critics and doubters up along the way. In the meantime, Ireland fans can wait for another teenager to score a brace in their first Premier League start. We reckon they’ll be waiting a while.