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Sunday 25 August 2019

Luca blooming as young star makes his mark

'This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me'

Luca Connell. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Luca Connell. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Having to cancel a holiday and risk the wrath of his girlfriend is a price worth paying, even for a teenager who is not even on a professional contract with his club.

Bigger and better things await Luca Connell, the 18-year-old who broke into the Bolton first team this season and is certain to be on the move over the summer, probably to a Premier League club.

A few of those have already taken a look at the midfielder, so he can probably bear the brunt of losing the money he'd paid for a break in Dubai with his girlfriend next month.

Connell opted to cancel that trip in case he's asked to stay with the senior Ireland squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers that follow from the current training camp in Portugal.

"It's a lot of money but this is an experience that money can't buy. That's no problem for me," he says, smiling when asked if cancelling the holidays means he now has an ex-girlfriend, not a girlfriend.

"I wouldn't hold back. I've to take any opportunity that I can. It's a once in a lifetime. If you turn that down, not just the gaffer but the team wouldn't be happy with you."

Things are grim at his current club, Bolton, due to their debts, relegation to the third tier and a points deduction for next season.

Players and other staff have gone unpaid, the awful scenario of locals donating to a food bank set up for Bolton club staff who are unable to feed t heir families due to the lack of wages.

Big bucks

Only just turned 18, Connell is not on a professional contract at Bolton so he's not yet on big bucks. That will come in time as his high-profile agent, Peter McIntosh, will surely be able to get the Liverpool-born player a move.

But an international career is also on the horizon. The fact that Connell is here in Portugal training with the Irish squad, chosen by Mick McCarthy to travel when more experienced midfielders like Cyrus Christie, Alan Judge, David Meyler, Shaun Williams and Daryl Horgan all failed to make the cut, shows he's held in high esteem.

There's also the fact that Connell is an English-born footballer currently playing for Ireland but who could soon come to the attention (if he hasn't already) of the England set-up.

His link with Ireland is through his grandparents, two Dubliners (Margaret and Peter Simpson) who went to England on holiday and found each other.

"My mum's mum and dad are both from Dublin. They met, funny enough, when both were on holiday in Blackpool with their friends. My granddad went on holidays with his mates and my nan was on holiday with her mates. So they met there and the rest is history," says Connell.

Joking

His grandfather has passed away but granny is still with us, Connell joking that "she wouldn't be speaking to me" if he opted to leave the Ireland set-up and throw in his lot with England.

Connell was introduced to the Ireland camp in 2016, one of just two foreign-based players in an U16 squad named by Paul Osam for the Victory Shield played in Scotland, and he has since come up through the ranks at U17 and U19 levels, though he's yet to play or even be selected at U21 level.

Now more established thanks to a 15-game run for Bolton on their way to relegation, Connell could be offered a route to an England career a la Declan Rice, if the FA staff rate him highly enough.

"I'm happy where I am at the minute. I'll go and see what happens over next few months," he says.

"Yeah, I did see a few of the reports [of England interest] and got told about them but it could mean anything, couldn't it? There was no direct contact. I'm happy where I am, playing.

"To be honest, I haven't thought about that, I'm just focused on now. I'm grateful to be called up to the first team, I couldn't ask for much more.

"I've enjoyed every time I've been in a camp with Ireland. I'm not thinking about that, I'm just happy where I am right now," says Connell, an Everton fan who was happy to be welcomed into the Ireland camp by captain Seamus Coleman.

"When I came in I met all the team and I was waiting to see him, he was the only one. When I saw him, I was star-struck for a few seconds. Then it was just like he was my friend. He's a lovely fella. I'm grateful for how he's welcomed me in."

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