The defence of Aaron Connolly

It takes a minute to build a bad reputation and forever to banish it.

At just 23 years of age, time is on Aaron Connolly’s side and the hope is that the penny has dropped on his career as he looks to deliver on his early promise and revive his career.

Ireland have been starved of a marquee striker ever since the retirement of Robbie Keane.

And when Connolly burst onto the scene for Brighton and Hove Albion with a brace against Tottenham Hotspur on his first Premier League start in October 2019 hype reached fever pitch over the hope that we might have unearthed another green gem.

Fast forward just under four years and the Galway man has developed a rather unwanted reputation.

However, after a fruitless loan spell at Middlesbrough and an even more obscure stint in Italy on loan with Venezia, he seems to have found the right environment to turn over a new leaf and rebuild himself both on and off the pitch.

In hindsight, Connolly is a young man who has made some poor decisions.

His club and international form – no goals in eight Ireland caps – drew widespread criticism as he was cast aside by many.

But a fruitful loan spell at the back end of last season at Hull City prompted Liam Rosenior’s side to make the deal permanent.

Rosenior was part of the Brighton coaching staff at academy level and played a role in Connolly coming through at the Amex.

And his Hull City boss has publicly backed Connolly to fulfil his potential at the Tigers.

Connolly went on record last season in an interview with Irish Football Fan TV about how he had cut the negative influences out of his life which is an incredibly difficult thing for a young man to do.

Many have had a piece of the Galwegian and taken a swipe at him over his attitude off the pitch and the image he portrays for himself over the last few years.

But to his credit it takes an incredible sense of maturity to take stock of oneself and realise what you are doing wrong.

He even showed glimpses that the penny has dropped for him when he was willing to play for the under-21s towards the end of their European Championship qualifying campaign.

Should Connolly continue on the straight and narrow and focus on solely football, might Ireland reap the rewards?

Next month’s international break might come too soon although the injury to Michael Obafemi might have opened a spot for Connolly to take.

But going forward if Ireland do persist with a 3-5-2 or even migrate back to a 4-3-3 could Connolly be the perfect partner for Evan Ferguson who has filled the shoes we expected the former to fill?

The Adam Idah/Ferguson partnership fell flat in Athens and showed little sign of growth but in a Connolly/Ferguson duo there is the potential for a hybrid version of the big man little man combination.

Either as a front two or Connolly playing off the left in a front three it could offer a different dimension for Ireland and compliment Ferguson’s all-round game.

Ferguson’s ability to drop deep and bring others in to play has been widely lauded at Brighton and Connolly’s pace in behind could be a weapon for Ireland rather than relying on Ferguson to run in behind which isn’t his game.

Having said that Stephen Kenny has been more than fair to Connolly with his chances in a green shirt.

And he could not be blamed for giving him the swerve when he names his squad for France and the Netherlands on Thursday with Chiedoze Ogbene, Jamie McGrath and Adam Idah perhaps still ahead of Connolly in those supporting attacking roles.

Connolly has made progress in his cameo appearances for Hull City so far this season despite not starting a game but the signs are positive.

Watch this space.