Belfast Telegraph

Phone call left me speechless says fresh face Aaron

 

Best day: Aaron Connolly scored twice for Brighton on his Premier League debut and then got Republic call
Best day: Aaron Connolly scored twice for Brighton on his Premier League debut and then got Republic call
Scott Hogan

By Damian Spellman

Aaron Connolly thought his call-up to the senior Republic of Ireland squad was a "wind-up" at the end of the best day of his career to date.

Hours after marking his first Premier League start for Brighton with a double in a 3-0 victory over Tottenham last Saturday, the 19-year-old was added to Mick McCarthy's party for the Euro 2020 qualifiers in Georgia and Switzerland.

He learned of his elevation after dropping his proud father off at Gatwick Airport when one of his team-mates texted to say club boss Graham Potter was trying to get hold of him.

Connolly said: "I'd literally just dropped my dad to Gatwick and I was on the way back. I'd just got to my girlfriend's house and one of the boys from Brighton texted me saying the gaffer was looking for my number.

"I thought it was a wind-up a little bit, and then after a few minutes I realised definitely it was the gaffer calling, and then I just rang my parents straight away and they were both shocked.

"I was named in the provisional [squad], but they didn't expect me to be called in and when I was, they were both proud, and obviously my girlfriend and her family when I let them know.

"It's the proudest thing anyone can ask for as a 19-year-old Irish kid that wants to play for his country. It was just mad when I got the call, I was speechless for a couple of minutes."

The news came as the latest chapter in a whirlwind tale which has catapulted the teenager into the limelight at both club and international level.

And his adventure could yet take a further twist as the Republic look for precious qualification points in Tbilisi and Geneva.

Connolly said: "After the game, I went for food with my dad and we kind of both just said, 'What's just happened?'.

"It's weird because I used to watch Premier League Years all the time and I never thought I'd get the chance to play in it.

"I'd always liked to think I could have, but to get the chance to play in it and to score two goals against a team like Tottenham, it's kind of like a 'pinch me' moment.

"I couldn't have asked for more, really, than Saturday of how I wanted it to go. But I never imagined it would go like that.

"The way it happened, everything just went well. The two goals, the win and just everything after, being called into the [Repbulic's] first team [squad]. It was just a mad day really and the best day I've had in football."

Whatever else happens to him over the next few days, Connolly will reflect upon a decision he took ahead of a meeting with Potter during the summer which has been rewarded handsomely already.

He said: "The first day I came back from holidays, I went to meet the gaffer in Brighton and I just said to him, 'I don't want to go out on loan, I want to stay here and try to fight for a place in the Premier League'.

"That's probably what he wanted to hear, I'd say, instead of me taking kind of the easy option to go out on loan, maybe, instead of trying to fight for a place here.

"I just let him know that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay in Brighton, I wanted to play in the Premier League and it looks like it was a good decision to say that to him."

Meanwhile, Scott Hogan is primed to play a part for the Republic in Georgia after fulfilling a remarkable promise to score a winner for his club if he was brought in from the cold.

The 27-year-old Stoke striker has played just 80 minutes of league football for his club in four appearances as a substitute in the last seven weeks after finding himself out of favour.

However, he reported for international duty on Sunday a day after coming off the bench to score a last-gasp winner at Swansea - the Potters' first victory of the Sky Bet Championship campaign - despite initially not being included in the matchday squad.

Hogan was a late addition to the travelling party after being summoned by manager Nathan Jones following a conversation with sports scientist Jared Roberts-Smith during which he told him he would score the winning goal if he was included.

Hogan said: Ten minutes before the bus was leaving, the manager pulled me into the office and said, 'Jared's come over to me and said you've said this to him', and I said, 'Yeah, I've said that'.

"He slammed his hand on the table and said... I can't use the language but, 'Get on the bus, get your gear, you're travelling', and then obviously I was on the bench and came on and scored."

Rep of Ireland vs Georgia

Euro 2020 Qualifying Group D:

Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tomorrow, 2pm

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