From Galway to the Premier League: Brighton’s young striker Aaron Connolly eyes breakthrough season

Aaron Connolly has impressed for Brighton under-23s (getty)
Aaron Connolly has impressed for Brighton under-23s (getty)

Brighton & Hove Albion under-23s striker Aaron Connolly is targeting a breakthrough season and is keen to impress at this week’s first team training camp in Austria.

Connolly, who spent last campaign on loan at League One title-winners Luton Town, travelled with Graham Potter’s squad along with fellow under-23s Max Sanders, Steven Alzate, Viktor Gyokeres and Robert Sanchez.

“It’s been good to meet the new head coach and his staff and I’m glad to be around it every day,” said the Irishman who scored 11 times in 15 Premier League 2 Division 1 matches last term. “It’s what I wanted and something I said in a few interviews at the end of last season.

“I want to be in this environment and push on now, it’s a chance I want to take.

“My aim is to play for the first team and impress the head coach here, hopefully I get my chance in some league or cup games. If that doesn’t work out, then I’d consider going out on loan again.”

Connolly’s form last season also earned him the Player of the Season award at the end of the campaign.

“That was nice and something I didn’t expect,” said Connolly. “Given that I’d only played at that level for half of the season, so when I found out I was really happy.

“As much football is about the team, whenever you pick up a personal award it feels really good and it was a proud moment for me and my family.”

Connolly, 19, was born in Oranmore, Galway and started his career in the youth team of local side Mervue United, aged 11. He joined Brighton in 2016 and his impressive form and work rate earned him a two-year scholarship with the under-18 side.

He was soon fast-tracked to the under-23 and at just 17 he made his debut for the first team as a substitute for Tomer Hemed in the 1–0 EFL Cup win over Barnet in August 2017. Connolly is highly-regarded at the Amex and signed a new three-and-a-half-year contract last January.

“The staff in the group have been brilliant for me,” he added. “I’ve played with them since I was 16 because they were in charge back then as well.

“Simon [Rusk], Shannon [Ruth] and Liam [Rosenior] have been great and made me a better player over the last few years and I can’t thank them enough.

“Hopefully all they’ve done for me will be reflected in me working hard with the first team out here in Austria.”

Albion end their week in Austria with a first pre-season friendly on Saturday against Austrian second division club FC Liefering.