Aaron Connolly is hoping to impress a pair of Irish bosses – and make big strides in his blossoming career.

The in-form young Albion striker is eyeing the Republic of Ireland under-21 squad after being left out of the 19s.

And he is hoping performances for the Seagulls under-23s, as well as in training sessions with the senior squad, have caught the eye of Chris Hughton at club level.

Connolly was at it again on Monday night, providing a super finish against Benfica B in the Premier League International Cup.

That took him to nine goals from 12 games and he might have had one or two more as he caused giant Slovenian centre-back David Zec a lot of problems.

He continues to catch the eye – and both Hughton and his assistant Paul Trollope were there to see it in person.

Connolly told The Argus: “It was tough. It’s good to play against teams like that.

“It’s a change from playing against an English team when you know they are going to be physical.

“I’m not saying Benfica weren’t but they are technical players and we knew we had to be on it defensively before we could get the goals. Thankfully, we got one early.

“That sets us off and to get the second one was a cushion.”

It might not have been as physical as some games but Zec gave out a bit of rough treatment as Connolly got under his skin.

The Irishman said: “It got physical near the end. He was big. He wasn’t a bad player as well.

“But playing against players like that is good. In the Premier League they are going to be big and physical and that’s one day where I hope to be.

“I need to get used to that sort of stuff.

Connolly cut inside on to his left foot to make it 2-0 from a great pass by Ben White.

It was almost a mirror image of his right-footed strike from the opposite corner of the area at Peterborough recently.

Connolly added: “I probably should have got another like the one against Peterborough in the second half.

“Ben said before the game he would get an assist for me so he backed up his words. It was a good ball.

“To get a test against European teams is good, especially Benfica because they have produced so many players over the years.”

The goal against Posh was something a bit special from Connolly.

There were those across the Irish Sea who felt he should not have scored that one – because he shouldn’t have been there.

The Irish under-19s were in Euro qualifying action that week in Longford, a town Albion fans might have heard of, and Connolly was not in the squad.

That was a disappointment although boss Tom Mohan would probably suggest wins over Bosnia, the Faroe Islands and the Netherlands in quick succession, securing top spot in the group, justified his selection policy.

Adam Idah of Norwich and Troy Parrott of Tottenham were among the main strikers that week.

Connolly would love to get back in the international picture and is eyeing the next group up.

The 18-year-old (he turns 19 in January) said: “Not every manager is going to favour me.

“I thought I was going to get into it (the under-19 squad). I didn’t think there was going to be a big thing about it. But I just move on, keep scoring goals.

“Hopefully I can even get into the under-21 Ireland team. That’s my next target.

“I haven’t got in the 19s but hopefully push on and keep scoring gals.

“Nothing is better than playing for your country. I was disappointed but that’s just the way it goes.”

Which means under-21s boss Noel King is added to Hughton as the Irishmen at the top to impress for country and club.

He was among the under-23s who played in a practice match with the senior pros during the international break.

Connolly said: “Whenever I go up there I try and do my best. Hopefully I can impress the gaffer.

“Keep doing what I’m doing for the 23s and hopefully he will give me a chance eventually.

“They treat us just like first team players when we go up there, which is what you want.

“You don’t really want to be going up there and have them not calling you by your name, just calling you ‘kid’.

“But all the first team players are good with us, from Bruno, Andone, everyone.”

The variety of Aaron Connolly goals is starting to widen.
But that is not the only reason why development boss Simon Rusk can see the striker making strides.
Connolly scored from some way out with a shot angled from the corner of the box against Benfica on Monday.
When he did something similar at Peterborough (below) in the recent Checkatrade Trophy fixture, he said it was the first time he could recall netting for Albion from so far out.

The Argus:
Rusk said: “He has got that one where he can peel off to one side, get down the side of the centre-half.
“In training he comes in on his right foot a lot.
“But he has scored a variety of goals.
“He scored the header against Blackburn last week and he still needs to be getting those tap-ins in and around the box.
“But I think overall he has got more of a repertoire of finishes this season than in seasons gone by.”
Rusk, however, believes there has been more to Connolly’s progress than goals.
He added: “Aaron is in a good place at the minute.
“Like any forward who is scoring goals, he is feeling confident.
“He has got good energy, I think his hold-up play has really improved and his timing has been much better over the last six months.
“He has got to keep working hard, keep looking to improve and see where that takes him.”