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comment Connolly central to attack as Ireland’s quest for vaccine to end their long-running goal drought continues


Aaron Connolly has great potential

Aaron Connolly has great potential

Aaron Connolly has great potential

THE search for a vaccine to Ireland’s goal drought continues.

Only Shane Duffy, who has so recently been stripped of his responsibility to prevent goals for his club, has managed to score one for his country since Stephen Kenny took the reins.

David McGoldrick, to whom tributes flowed so gushingly one had presumed he had been the reincarnation of Robbie Keane or some such, has retired, vacating a vast chasm, we are told.

There has always been a vast chasm, it seems.

Since Euro 2016, Ireland have scored 22 goals in 24 competitive games.

Remove the evidence of games against Moldova and Gibraltar – even if the scarring memories of insipidness remain – and that figure slumps to 15 goals in 20 games.

Ireland have rarely traded in large numbers when it comes to the currency of goals so their alarming absence now should not be so surprising.

It is just that the side have discovered new ways to avoid scoring them. Some might perceive them to be much nicer ways.

But it is still the same result. It’s as if one almost pines for the days of the glory days of the 1-1 victory. Almost.

The injury-plagued McGoldrick’s departure, at 32 and with just 14 appearances and one goal in six years under his belt, deprives him of an autumnal flourish.

Kenny (below) was a manager willing to play to his technical strengths and use him on the ball, rather than play to his strength as the ball whizzed over his head.

A door closed may instead now open for Aaron Connolly, as he is more than likely to be asked to come in from the wings and assume a more central station.

While Ireland continue to create more chances than in recent times, the bottom line is that regardless of the means, the end result remains stark impotence.

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Connolly’s goal threat is obvious; his ability to convert remains undeveloped.

Since announcing himself with a whirlwind double against Spurs on Premier League debut he has experienced a personal pandemic in front of goal.

His October on Irish duty summed up the rot; some plane-sitting which unwittingly ruled him out of the Euro play-off penalty defeat and then some plain speaking after his selfishness fluffed the latest Irish unconverted scoring chance.

That desperate finish against the Finnish typified a raw talent – he is still just 20 – and also one that is struggling for air at club level.

Brighton are struggling to score of late, too but Connolly is mostly out of favour; he did come off the bench in the dull 0-0 with Burnley last week – the best €20 you never spent – but has often struggled to even make manager Graham Potter’s match-day squad.

Like Kenny, Potter is much more of an expansive chap than his predecessors; after all, he gave the one-time Castlegar hurler his head in that famous debut against Spurs.

It’s just over a year ago since that dream double but seems longer; it has taken him another 13 months to add a couple of more goals.

He did score against Newcastle, and started against Everton and Manchester United, but has steadily slipped in the rankings since with the recruitment of Danny Welbeck and Andi Zequiri.

Connolly strongly refutes the notion but it stands to some reason, at least, that this international window not only provides him with a chance to kick-start his Irish career but also his club one, too.

“I’m not thinking about performances here just to get back in at club level,” he demurs. “I’m thinking I’m just here to stay in the Ireland team.

“When I come away for Ireland, it’s all about Ireland. I’m playing the three games to impress our gaffer here, that’s my thinking now. When I’m away with Ireland, it’s all about Ireland.

“I don’t feel like there is any pressure on us, although I do think that it would have been nice to play with David. I think I only played 20 minutes with him in an international game.

“I know his qualities, he’s a top player, the way he plays the game. He is going to be missed but I’m definitely going to enjoy the step up, if the gaffer wants to play me through the middle, and fill the boots that David left behind.

“I love hearing stuff like that and I love the pressure. It’s nice to be at 20 years of age and 19 for Adam Idah, to have pressure like that on you and fans and coaches expecting things of you.

“I’m never going to shy away from that. I like the way people put pressure on because it makes you feel wanted and they obviously think you can do something great.”

Potter is convinced that the erstwhile wunderkind can be resuscitated. “He is a great kid and we like him a lot,” says the Englishman who can afford to be so magnanimous given his relative luxury of choices up front.

Kenny cannot afford to be as profligate, especially since profligacy is a veritable state of being for any player who pulls a green shirt over his head these days.

How he would dearly love for Connolly to rediscover a lost art.

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