Can Connolly make Premier League name for himself at Brighton?
With Aaron Connolly making his Premier League debut at the weekend, just how big a part can he play for Brighton this season?
English striker Glenn Murray has been the main source of goals for Brighton over the past three seasons, netting 23 times in all competitions during the 2016/17 season to help the club earn promotion to the Premier League.
Over the next two campaigns, the 35-year-old has ended as the Seagull’s top goalscorer, scoring 14 and 15 goals across all competitions in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons respectively.
However, with the Maryport-born star coming towards the end of a career that spans nearly two decades, which player can take his mantle and become a leading figure for the club for years to come?
One player Murray has been talking up is Republic of Ireland Under-21 international Connolly, who made his top-flight bow last Saturday when coming off the bench for a 24-minute cameo in the 4-0 defeat at Manchester City.
He told The Argus: “He (Connolly) has got a lot of developing to do but the instinct to score goals is there and that is hard to find. Once you have got that goalscoring knack, it is just about bettering your all-round game.
“He is an exciting young player.”
The 19-year-old from Galway has been ripping it up for the U23’s over the past couple of seasons, having scored nine Premier League 2 Division Two goals during the 2017/18 campaign.
In the following season, the Irishman scored 11 times in PL2 Division One before starting the 2019/20 term off in fantastic fashion, netting three times from just two appearances.
Connolly started and scored in the recent 2-1 EFL Cup victory at Bristol Rovers, securing the club’s place in the third round, and he has certainly made an impression on manager Graham Potter.
The new boss, who took charge following the sacking of Chris Hughton this summer, demonstrated during his one year in charge of Swansea that he wasn’t afraid to give youth a chance.
At least 11 players aged 25 or under made 20 appearances or more in the Championship last season, while 20-year-old Yan Dhanda featured in five games and scored one goal in the process.
Connolly will be hoping his outing at the Etihad Stadium is one of several during this campaign and the late exits at the AMEX before the European transfer window shut suggest more chances are on the way.
Jurgen Locadia joined Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim on loan for the season for an undisclosed loan fee before Florin Andone, who was sent off in the 2-0 defeat to Southampton last month, will spend the campaign on loan at Galatasaray.
That has left Murray and Neal Maupay, who arrived from Brentford this summer, as the two recognised senior strikes in the squad and Connolly will be trying to press his claims for more opportunities.
In terms of his goal record for the U23s, the Irishman certainly has the finishing touch and, just maybe, this could be his breakthrough season for Brighton.