Albion have a leading European goalscorer on their hands.

But the teen prospect who chose them ahead of a host of rivals could have been battling it out in the tough world of Gaelic Games instead of scoring goals for club and country.

Aaron Connolly scored four goals in three matches for Republic of Ireland under-17s as they topped their European Championship qualifying group in Cyprus.

The goals came against the host nation and the Faroe Islands, two in each match.

There will be far bigger challenges at the finals in Croatia in May but Connolly’s haul of seven goals from six qualification games in total took him top of the competition standings.

He is one clear of Andre Ruiz, a young hotshot who recently signed a new three-year deal with Barcelona to ward off interest from Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

While Ruiz is learning the game at La Masia, Connolly paid his dues at Mervue United in Galway.

Mervue vice-chairman Terry Flaherty told The Argus: “Aaron was always a very determined, dedicated and focused young lad. He was a man of few words who did his talking on the pitch with his performances while playing for the club.

“He was also a talented hurler with his club Castlegar but obviously is now concentrating on his soccer career.

“The club is very proud of Aaron and everyone is following his progress with Brighton and hoping he can make the big breakthrough to first team football.”

The Argus:

Aaron Connolly is presented with Mervue United's under-17 player of the year award last June by manager Ollie Near

Connolly played for Mervue from under-12 level, always as a goalscorer.

Flaherty said: “He won many honours and scored many a great goal along the way.

“A lot of those league titles and Connacht Cups were won on the strength of Aaron’s goals.

“It was no surprise that lots of English club’s were looking to sign him and Brighton were the club he chose to sign for last year.

“The club has a lot of players who came through our structure in England at the moment like QPR’s Ryan Manning, Preston’s Greg Cunningham, Bristol Rovers’ Rory Gaffney and Joe Shaughnessy at St Johnstone in Scotland.

“We are very proud of our academy and under-age structure.”

Flaherty recalls Connolly training with Aston Villa, Manchester United, Ipswich and Southampton while Sunderland and Sheffield United also showed an interest.

He said: “I think it came down to between Brighton and Southampton as they were the two clubs he himself was most impressed with.

“Scouts from Villa, Ipswich and obviously Brighton watched him play at games at Fahy’s Field here in Mervue, and the others watched him in games with Ireland under-age teams.

“All were very impressed with him as he is a pure, natural goalscorer and that is something you cannot coach any young fella.”

Connolly signed for Albion as a scholar last July and has been making progress in the under-18s.

But it was the Seagulls’ run in the FA Youth Cup and his elevation into the under-23s which helped him catch a few more eyes.

Not many people actually attend such fixtures but the club show live games and highlights via their website.

Goals are also shared with a much larger audience on the big screens at the Amex ahead of first team games.

Connolly scored twice on his under-23s debut against West Ham and netted a stunning overhead kick at the Amex recently in a win over Middlesbrough.

The Argus:

He added a very slick one-touch finish to kick-start the recent 4-3 win over Eastbourne Borough in the Sussex Senior Cup, pictured above by Paul Hazlewood.

The 17-year-old is one of several bright Irish prospects who have come to the Albion set-up largely thanks to links forged by John Morling, who worked on the Emerald Isle before becoming the club’s academy manager.

Albion coach Vic Bragg told the Argus: “John knows of a few boys over there. We had seen Aaron a few times. We had him over on trials and he did very well.

“He is so quick and he causes centre-halves problems. He is not the biggest but he rats around and they can’t handle it.

“He is a nice lad. He is a good little character. He wants to learn, wants to develop.

“He works hard and that is all you can ask.”

Connolly first caught Albion’s eyes with the Irish under-16s playing at the Mayo International Cup. He said of his trial: “Obviously the plans of the club and the facilities were a massive influence but it was also the way the coaching staff treated me while I was over here on trial.

“That made my mind up for me because it’s such a family club, which you can see from the first team right through to the academy.”

His progress this season has mainly come under the guidance of under-18s coaches Nick Buckman and Adam Hinshelwood.

He is not the only player striving to bridge the gap to the first team but, inevitably, goalscorers demand attention and there is plenty of guarded excitement about what Connolly can offer.

And, if there is to be another off the family production line, Albion will hope to be well placed to move in again.

Flaherty said: “Aaron’s older and younger brothers, Andrew and Ethan, play with our club and both are talented players.”