Nottingham Forest teenager Aaron Donnelly is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his one-time Dungannon team-mate Conor Bradley and play senior international football for Northern Ireland.
Last month, 17-year-old Liverpool starlet Bradley came off the bench for Ian Baraclough’s side in a friendly victory over Malta in Austria and should Donnelly, who turned 18 earlier this month, continue to progress as he has done over the past year, there is every chance he will turn out at the highest level too.
Donnelly, who started out at Magherafelt Sky Blues before joining the highly respected set-up at Dungannon United Youth and Dungannon Swifts under Joe McAree and Dixie Robinson, is a classy left sided centre-back also capable of playing at full-back.
In the final weeks of this season, his impressive form earned him game time at Under-23 level for Forest prior to a recent debut for the Northern Ireland Under-21 side, when he set up a goal for club mate Dale Taylor in a 2-1 victory over Scotland.
He believes his grounding at Dungannon has played an important role in his development.
“The guys at Dungannon are super. Joe McAree and Dixie Robinson brought me in from Magherafelt Sky Blues and, along with Ciaran O’Kane, provided me with great coaching. The facilities were also excellent,” said the teenager.
“They help you play the right way, playing out from the back and getting your tactical and technical things right. It was brilliant for me.
“I was fortunate enough to play with Conor Bradley at Dungannon and he is an excellent player. He deserves to be where he is at the moment and I’m delighted for him that he played for the senior international team.
“Obviously it is an honour to pull on the jersey of your country and it would be the biggest honour to step out at Windsor Park one day and get a cap at senior level.”
While internationally Donnelly is on the up, things are also going well at club level. On the pitch, he is thriving and off, it thanks to compatriots Taylor and Jamie McDonnell, he is enjoying life.
“The accommodation we have been staying in is great and being with the other two Northern Irish boys is brilliant,” says Donnelly.
“Away from football, we have been at the golfing range a lot. Stuff like that really helps you and keeps your head right.
“This season has been good for me. Towards the end of it, I pushed up to the Under-23s, playing the last three games which was a real learning curve.”
Former Republic of Ireland international Andy Reid is Forest’s Head coach at Under-23 level. The defender is learning much from him and ex-England defender Michael Dawson.
“Andy Reid is a great coach and very good to work with. Dale and him have a fantastic great relationship,” revealed Donnelly.
“At Forest there is a great link with defenders and Michael Dawson, who had a superb career, is there. I enjoy talking to Michael and soaking up his information and everything he has to tell me. He’s been coaching our Under-18s and it is great to listen to him and learn from him.”
Dungannon continue to keep a close eye on all their youngsters who move on having come through their ranks.
On Donnelly, Head of Youth Development Robinson says: “Aaron was with us from he was 12. He has a wand of a left foot and is an excellent player. He had chances to go to other clubs but he really liked Nottingham Forest and it’s fantastic to see him progressing so well.”