7 January ~ When Rory Donnelly appeared as a late substitute in Cliftonville’s home defeat to Coleraine last month it was widely accepted he had played his last game for the north Belfast side. What was considerably less clear was his next destination, with interest confirmed from Liverpool, Everton and Swansea. The 19-year-old has been making headlines all season having scored 17 times, including five goals in two games against table-topping Linfield. So it was a surprise when he spurned the advances of the Merseyside duo in favour of a move to South Wales.
Those with a vested interest in Donnelly’s career must feel the starlet has made the right move. Cliftonville found themselves in a similar situation back in 2010 when Liam Boyce was the subject of intense transfer speculation before eventually making the move to Werder Bremen. Given little opportunity to showcase his considerable talents, Boyce was released earlier this year and, after an unsuccessful trial at Kilmarnock, he is now without a club.
Boyce has the talent to make the grade in England and yet finds his promising career stagnating, something Donnelly may have considered when he had the chance to sign for a Liverpool side where even a £35 million forward struggles to start regularly.
Conversely, Everton boss David Moyes has spoken in the press about his desperate need for reinforcements. Donnelly, however, will need time to adapt to the step up in class, a gulf recently highlighted by the return to Northern Ireland of Peter Thompson and Rory Patterson from Stockport County and Plymouth Argyle respectively. The pair found goals considerably harder to come by in the English lower divisions.
Neither of the contrasting situations on Merseyside could really be claimed to be tailor-made for Donnelly, so Swansea looked the best option. Before the completion of the transfer, Donnelly’s compatriot Brendan Rodgers told the Evening Post: "If Rory is clever enough, he will look at our squad and see that there are two young, home grown players who have come through and are playing in the Premier League. He will also see that there are lots of other young players at this club as well as some top senior professionals who can help the younger players through."
While Rodgers's position is naturally one of self-interest, Swansea have a recent history of giving young players an opportunity, with Joe Allen being the most obvious example. Donnelly has been told by Rodgers that he is under no pressure to perform right away, a luxury afforded due to a striking unit that already contains Danny Graham, Leroy Lita and Luke Moore.
While none of these factors can guarantee success, those who have watched Donnelly over the last year will be hoping the youngster looks back on his decision to turn down Liverpool and Everton as the best one of his career. Jonathan Bradley