Aaron Connolly says that he was 'surprised he was still eligible' to play for the Ireland U21s, three years after last playing for them

Aaron Connolly says that he was 'surprised he was still eligible' to play for the Ireland U21s, three years after last playing for them

Republic of Ireland forward Aaron Connolly has spoken of his great desire to help the Under-21s make history, qualify for a first UEFA European U21 Championship and remind people of the talents that have already earned him eight senior international caps. 

In an exclusive interview with FAITV, Aaron spoke about answering the call to play in the U21s Play-Offs against Israel and his desire to represent Ireland at senior level again.

The Venezia strike was named in U21s Manager Jim Crawford's squad last week, the first time the Galwegian has been involved with the U21s for three years. The 22-year-old reflects on being a senior member of the group and learning from his early experiences playing Premier League and international football. 

Connolly's last cap for the U21s came in 2019.

“I was a bit surprised I was still eligible, to be honest with you,” said Connolly when asked about being included in the Ireland U21 squad again.  

“It’s one of those, a lot of people have certain things to say about my career so far, but I think they forget that I’m still eligible to play 21s football. 

“Yeah, I’ve made some mistakes, or so-called mistakes, or what people like to say over the last certain amount of years. 

“So, it’s just a chance to go and show people that I’m ready to play and I’m ready to focus on football and, like I said before, help the 21s.” 

According to the 23-year-old, Brighton academy manager John Morling had a huge influence in Connolly's decision to return to the underage 

“When he (Morling) mentioned it and how big the game was, I couldn’t wait to get involved, just to show people that I am not taking playing for Ireland for granted,” said Connolly. 

“Some people might have that perception over the last few years. 

“It’s a chance to help the 21s qualify for their first ever 21s tournament, maybe, and just show people what I can do.” 

Senior boss Stephen Kenny was manager of the U21's when Connolly was last in the U21's.  

The Venezia forward now believes that performing well for Jim Crawford's side could get him back into Kenny's side, but for now he's focused on the 21's 

Obviously, Stephen was the manager last time I played 21s,” he said. 

“I’ve played however many games for the first team and for now my main focus is on the 21s. 

“But obviously it would be nice to put myself back in Stephen’s plans and show him I’m ready to focus and play for Ireland again.” 

The U21s take on Israel in the first leg of the UEFA European U21 Championship Play-Offs on Friday night in Tallaght Stadium. 

Republic of Ireland Under-21 Squad Goalkeepers: Brian Maher (Derry City), Luke McNicholas (Sligo Rovers), David Odomosu (St. Patrick’s Athletic)

Defenders: Eiran Cashin (Derby County), Festy Ebosele (Udinese), Anselmo Garcia McNulty (NAC Breda, on loan from Wolfsburg), Andy Lyons (Shamrock Rovers), Jake O’Brien (RWD Molenbeek, on loan from Crystal Palace), Lee O’Connor (Tranmere Rovers), Joe Redmond (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Sean Roughan (Lincoln City)

Midfielders: Finn Azaz (Plymouth Argyle, on loan from Aston Villa), Conor Coventry (West Ham United), Dawson Devoy (MK Dons), Joe Hodge (Wolves), Adam O’Reilly (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Will Smallbone (Stoke City, on loan from Southampton), Ross Tierney (Motherwell)

Forwards: Aaron Connolly (Venezia, on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion), Dara Costelloe (Burnley),Evan Ferguson (Brighton & Hove Albion), Joshua ‘JJ’ Kayode (MK Dons, on loan from Rotherham United), Ollie O’Neill (Fulham), Mipo Odubeko (Port Vale, on loan from West Ham United), Tyreik Wright (Bradford City, on loan from Aston Villa) UEFA European Under-21 Championship Play-Offs (all times are Irish time)

Friday, September 23 | Ireland U21 v Israel U21, Tallaght Stadium, Dublin, KO 7pm.

Tuesday, September 27 | Israel U21 v Ireland U21, Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv, Israel KO 7pm