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Sunday 17 November 2019

Duffy: Aaron 'thrives off big games, that's what he wants'

DIFFERENCE: Shane Duffy has backed his Brighton team-mate. Pic: PA
DIFFERENCE: Shane Duffy has backed his Brighton team-mate. Pic: PA

The first thing Aaron Connolly did after he left the field of play in Tbilisi on Saturday night was leave the sanctuary of the dressing room in the Dinamo Stadium and head back out into the night-time air.

Phone in his hand and still wearing his match kit, he was trying to find his parents somewhere in the bowels of the ground. The Connolly clan had made the long trek from their Galway base to Tbilisi so they could be there to witness the moment of his senior international debut.

He's still learning about what it takes at this level. While most of the Ireland players talked up the positives of the 0-0 draw, insisting that (a) a draw and (b) a clean sheet were pretty good pieces of baggage to take on board the flight to Geneva>

Connolly broke away from the party line and was self-critical, pleased to have made his debut but annoyed with himself for not scoring from the two chances which came his way.

Due to the lack of finesse from the Irish front line for a long time now, the burden of scoring goals has fallen onto the shoulders of Shane Duffy, as his three goals in green make him the second-highest scorer in this squad.

So the arrival of Connolly on the scene may ease some of the pressure on Duffy to get the ball in the net and get Ireland out of jail, and Duffy is clearly delighted to see his fellow Brighton player emerge.

"I thought he made the difference when he came on," Duffy says.

"I don't like playing him in training every day. think you have to be patient with him, let him grow into it. It's only had one start in his whole career in league football. The future is bright for him."

Connolly's bright display, coming after a pretty ineffective run-out for James Collins, has placed the 19-year-old in the frame to start in Geneva tomorrow night.

A lot to ask of a teenager still finding his way in the game, in life even, but Duffy has seen enough of Connolly to back him to cope.

"No problem for him," Duffy said when asked if Connolly could start tomorrow.

"He's mature for his age. He's playing in the Premier League, you all saw him against Tottenham. He thrives off big moments, he thrives off big games and that's what he wants. He loves scoring goals and he always will, whatever level he plays at, and hopefully for Ireland.

"But you can't put too much pressure on him. He's only a kid and he's played three or four games in his career. So let him ease into it and hopefully in five or ten years time, we're talking about a great player.

Brilliant

"He's been brilliant. I'm looking after him, he's a great kid. I'm just trying to keep him settled, keep his feet on the ground.

"I'm delighted for him. It's been coming, I've been working with him now for two years and he's been unlucky not to be playing more with us (Brighton).

"That's him in now, he's got a big future ahead of him. That's not to put too much pressure on him, let his football do the talking.

"He's got everything ahead of him. I love him to bits and hopefully he can do it for us as well."

Connolly's presence on the field on Saturday night was a boost to all concerned but the sight of Duffy on the team's flight to Georgia and the follow-on trip to Geneva was close to a miracle.

Initially ruled out for six weeks with his calf injury, he was back at it within nine days, Duffy grateful to his club in general and manager Graham Potter in particular.

"They've been brilliant, I must say that, just thanks to them. They didn't really want me to play because obviously it should have been four weeks, My body just recovered, I don't know how," he says.

"The gaffer was brilliant. He just goes off the (advice of) medical staff. I understand where he was coming from because it's his job to look after me for Brighton.

"There was no chance I wasn't getting here. I want to play for Ireland," added Duffy, who insists he's fit to play again tomorrow despite his injury.

"The result was alright but I think we're disappointed with how we played with the ball. I know we're better than that," he says.

"We should have been better on the ball, we let them control the game, which was the most disappointing thing. But it's one game, we can go on Tuesday and win."

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