It’s been a dream debut senior season with Cork City for Kealkill’s Connor Ellis who tells KIERAN McCARTHY that he is waiting in the wings for his big chance
CONNOR Ellis can see the bigger picture.
The Kealkill soccer star is chomping at the bit to make an impression with Cork City this season – and he has already – but he also realises that he needs to be patient.
He turned 20 early in May, leaving his teens behind him, and it’s only natural that he is eager to play.
Three goals in 15 appearances is an impressive return in his first full season of senior football but the reality is, and he accepts it, that it’s a challenge too far right now to force his way into the starting line-up of runaway SSE Airtricity League leaders Cork City with the in-form Seanie Maguire leading the line.
‘I’m in a unique position where no matter what I do in training and in games I’m not going to play ahead of Seanie. He’s so good and he’s going to go on to greater things,’ Ellis explained.
‘What I’m looking at this season is to get experience coming off the bench and try to shape my game for next season when I will be pushing hard to get in the team. If we had a striker who wasn’t as good as Seanie and the gap was smaller between us, I’d be looking to push him out of the team – but he’s that good.
‘I’m up against a fella who people are complaining is not involved with the Irish senior team so that shows the standard of him as a striker. Rather than pushing him out of the team I want to learn as much off him while he’s here, and if he does get the move to England then I can look to try and fill his shoes.’
That could happen sooner rather than later with Maguire strongly linked with a move across the water to Preston North End with some suggesting that switch will happen this summer.
Maguire has racked up 16 goals in 20 appearances this season, with Ellis keen to learn as much from him while he’s still on Leeside.
The former Bantry Bay Rovers underage star is still fine-tuning his game, looking for those extra few percent that can make a big difference. That’s where Maguire steps in.
‘He’s fantastic and even in the short time this season I’ve learned a lot off him and he has given me some great pointers, to be fair. It’s even simple things like how to position your body when you’re holding off the centre half to make it harder for them to come through,’ Ellis said.
He added: ‘Seanie is the biggest benchmark. Last season was probably his first year playing week-in and week-out, 90 minutes every week, he was 22 at the time, and that’s done wonders for him, those 12 months. I’m not in any rush. I’d like to think that for the next 12 to 18 months it’s about the development of my game and I’ll be in a strong place when I am 22, 23.’
These are changing times for Ellis, on and off the field.
He’s living away from home for the first time, sharing a house in Wilton with four other Cork City team-mates, Achille Campion, Conor McCormack, Karl Sheppard and Ryan Delaney.
He’s maturing also. He’s on a learning curve, like everyone his age. And living away from home was the next step.
He’s also maturing and developing physically, he’s starting to fill out his frame to give him every chance of coping with the demands of senior football.
‘Physically, our strength and conditioning coach Kevin (Tattan) has done a lot of work with me. Since pre-season I have put on around four or five kilograms. Even when I’m holding the ball up, tackling, competing with centre halves, that makes it a lot easier,’ Ellis explained.
‘He helps you put on the weight but at the same time keep your body-fat percentage down.
‘As a striker one of strongest attributes is my pace and he has been able to help build me up and make me even faster without losing muscle. He’s helping me in the right way, he’s been brilliant. He’s been building me up slowly so that I still keep my speed and sharpness. If you get too big too fast and spend too much time in the gym that muscle can make you lose half a yard of pace.’
According to stats on the Cork City FC website, Ellis has a 100 per cent win ratio this season. Every game he has been involved in, either starting in the cup or coming on as a sub, City have won.
It’s been an incredible season so far for John Caulfield’s men who are running away with the league, the latest 4-1 home win against Shamrock Rovers confirming their standing as the best team in the country.
And Ellis is playing his part.
But the former Coláiste Pobail Bheanntraí student, who sat his Leaving Cert exams last summer, admits he wasn’t sure at the start of the season if he’d get a look-in with City.
‘After my Leaving Cert last year I went down to Cobh for six months. That was my first taste of senior football, I enjoyed it and it went well enough to think that I could give it a go here in pre-season,’ he explained.
‘But I was still kind of sceptical at the start of the season, I was looking around the dressing-room at the calibre that we have and I was thinking that I wouldn’t really play and maybe I would be better off going out on loan again.
‘John said he would give me a chance and he has been true to his word – I have come on in 10 out of 16 league games and started the two cup games so it couldn’t have gone any better.’
Ellis doesn’t lack belief. He banged in the goals with City’s U19s for a couple of seasons, he has played at various underage international levels and he backs himself to score goals.
He asked John Caulfield if he’d get game time with City this year. Enniskeane-based Caulfield, himself a West Cork man, said yes. And he’s been true to his word.
‘It’s been brilliant,’ he beamed.
‘When I came in and looked at the squad I thought I’d be down at the bottom of the list but I seem to be coming on every week; that makes you feel part of it, too. I’m getting consistent runs in the team and that makes me feel like I’m contributing, and chipping in with a few goals helps.
‘Being realistic unless you are a freak talent you’re never going to go from U19 football and doing your Leaving Cert to the year after leading the line for the best team in the country.
‘The fact that I’m coming on regularly speaks volumes for the faith and trust that John has in me.
‘I was confident enough in pre-season that I’d fit in and was good enough to play here but I didn’t expect to play in as many games as I have.’
For Ellis it’s a constant learning curve.
The speed of the game at senior level takes getting used to – that’s one of the biggest challenges he faces.
‘Physicality is a big difference at senior level obviously because you are playing against players who are 27, 28 years of age and who have been around the game for a long time, but it’s more the speed of the game – things you can do in three touches in an U19 game you need to do in one touch at this level. Mentally you know you can do it in one touch but it’s getting into the habit of doing that,’ he explained.
‘You have to learn fast. If you take an extra touch at U19 level you can get away with it but if you take an extra touch at senior level odds are some fella will clatter you and you’ll lose the ball.’
He scored his first senior goal for City into the Shed end at Turner’s Cross against Galway United in March with his parents and family in the crowd. It was a special moment and like any good striker, he wants more and more.
But good things come to those who wait and patience is the name of the game right now.
He’s a work in progress who’s progressing nicely.