‘I want to enjoy my football again’ – Aaron Connolly

Aaron Connolly hopes to rediscover his love of the game at Middlesbrough after moving to reignite his career.

The Republic of Ireland forward was struggling for game time at Brighton and made just one Premier League start – and four appearances – all season.

As a result, his stock plummeted at international level and Connolly hasn’t played for Ireland since being replaced at half-time in September’s home draw with Azerbaijan.

He was then left out of the squad for November’s games against Portugal and Luxembourg.

Brighton boss Graham Potter declared that Connolly just had to accept Kenny’s decision.

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny claimed a heel injury was the reason why Connnolly wouldn’t feature in the final games of the World Cup campaign.

But Kenny made no secret of the fact that the 21-year-old would be best served by a new challenge in the New Year.

That took shape after a Christmas Eve chat with Boro boss Chris Wilder and the loan move was sealed over the weekend.

Aaron Connolly in action for Brighton at Old Trafford

The Galway man has joined a Boro side well in the hunt for the playoff and hopes to make an immediate impact after swapping England’s south coast for the north-east.

Connolly is also desperate to play his way back into Kenny’s plans ahead of two home friendlies in March and the Nations League campaign starting in June.

“It’s a massive club and I’m just excited to get playing and get enjoying football again,” said Connolly of his Championship switch.

“I came up a couple of days ago and there seems to be a good feel about the place.

“It’s nice to come into a place that is winning and on a good run, so hopefully I can get into the team and help the momentum to keep going.

“I didn’t need much persuasion to come here and I spoke to the gaffer on Christmas Eve on the phone and that was the final bit of persuading that I needed.

“I didn’t need to look elsewhere. But I’m not just coming down from Brighton, expecting to walk straight into the team, I’m here to help.”

Back in November, Kenny felt that Connolly was at a ‘crossroads in his career’ and feared that a lack of games at Brighton could ‘erode his spirit’.

Ireland’s Aaron Connolly reacts after a late miss

At the time, the Ireland boss said: “He’s had a tough time not playing matches and his confidence [has been affected]. He’s had an up and down time with injuries.

And Kenny believed the structure of regular Saturday-Tuesday games in the Championship would play into Connolly’s hands.

Kenny added: “Rather than having one match a week and you’re probably not going to play, then you’re just training.

“And even to the strongest of characters that can erode your spirit. To have that level of focus would be brilliant for him.

“He can be a very important player for Ireland going forward. It’s just a sustained run of games that would certainly help.”

Connolly is now ready to put his best foot forward for Middlesbrough and feels that Wilder’s style of football will play into his hands.

The livewire forward said: “I like to make runs in behind and hopefully the way the gaffer plays, I can suit that with high intensity, pressing from the front and energy.

“Hopefully I can bring that and the fans will see that I’m working hard for the team. I’m just excited to get going.”

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