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Aaron Connolly is poised to feature in Ireland's Euro 2020 game against Georgia 

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After two goals against Spurs in the Premier League Aaron Connolly is poised to feature in Ireland's Euro 2020 game against GeorgiaA week ago, they didn't know who Connolly was in Tottenham, never mind TbilisiBut after two goals against Spurs during Brighton's 3-0 win, his status has grownHe was drafted into the Republic of Ireland squad for this Euro 2020 qualifier  

The question, delivered to Mick McCarthy in thick Georgian, was largely unfathomable, except for two words - Aaron Connolly.

One week ago, they didn't know who Connolly was in Tottenham, never mind Tbilisi.

But after two goals against Spurs during Brighton's 3-0 win last Saturday lunchtime - and swift elevation to the Republic of Ireland squad for this Euro 2020 qualifier - the world is talking about the 19-year-old. Well, at least everyone is here in the Georgian capital.

One week ago, they didn't know who Aaron Connolly was in Tottenham, never mind Tbilisi

McCarthy laughed at mention of Connolly's name as the local journalist asked if the striker would be starting at the Dinamo Stadium on Saturday.

'Well I'm not going to tell you the team, am I?' he returned in strained Yorkshire, unmistakable McCarthy.

But there is, you sense, a temptation to include him from the off. Connolly has brought a feel-good factor and excitement to the Irish set-up this week, a buzz long since absent around a group you suspect had grown bored of the same faces.

'He's been lively,' said captain Seamus Coleman of a player they say has a definite edge to his personality. 'He's a nice lad as well. It's good for Irish football.'

Connolly, 19, celebrates scoring one of two goals against Tottenham last week

Connolly, in downing Spurs, became the first Irish teenager to score twice in a Premier League match since Robbie Keane 20 years ago. McCarthy was manager then, too, and gave Keane his Ireland debut.

It easy to see similarities, not least in physique. Connolly, at 5ft 7in, is squat but explosive. The tracksuit bottoms he wore during training last night - a bizarre choice given temperatures of 25C - accentuated his barrel-like backside and thunderous thighs.

Keane, now on the coaching staff with Ireland, watched on as Connolly showcased his technique during one drill in which players had to run and juggle the ball in tandem. While others struggled - at one point it was like watching kids in a playground - Connolly shone.

Former Ireland defender Richard Dunne wants McCarthy to throw the youngster straight in, much like he did with Keane.

McCarthy laughed at mention of Connolly's name as the local journalist asked if he'd feature

'It's similar to when Robbie was starting out,' said Dunne. 'He had that freedom, that carefree way of playing where you have no worries, you don't think about the big, dirty defenders who will just kick you, you go and play the way you played on the street, have a spirit to go and win the game for your team - and that's what Connolly has.'

McCarthy, though, was too savvy to write the headlines for us.

'If you don't mind, I will wait and see him have a few games and see how he does before I start comparing him to Robbie Keane,' said the boss.

'I think we should just let him make his debut and, when he does, let's see how he does. I would love to be comparing him to Robbie at some stage, but I'm not going to start that now.'

Galway-born Connolly joined Brighton's academy at 16 from Mervue United and, save for two games on loan at Luton last season, has remained in the shadows, at least until now.

He has, though, been a regular for Ireland's under-age teams and was due to be with Stephen Kenny's Under-21s this week.

Galway-born Connolly is drawing comparisons to Ireland's leading scorer Robbie Keane

But after watching the Spurs game and receiving glowing text updates from Keane, who was at the Amex Stadium, McCarthy called Kenny, the man who will replace him as Ireland boss after this campaign.

'As soon as he knew it was me he laughed, he knew it was coming,' said McCarthy. 'I have said all along, I don't want to take players from his squad, but that (performance) is irresistible, it's too good an opportunity to turn down.

'If I'd not taken him, you'd have all thought I was completely potty. And you'd have been right.'

Then, he phoned Connolly, who had just dropped off his dad at Gatwick Airport and thought it could be a wind-up.

'When I called him I said, "Aaron, look, it's Mick McCarthy - and it is Mick McCarthy, it's not someone who's taking him off". Anyway, he believed me, it was alright.'

There has been a lot to take in for Connolly these past seven days, not that he seems fazed by any of it.

And that might just be enough to persuade McCarthy to place Ireland's qualification hopes on his young shoulders - they certainly look broad enough.

 

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