WHEN a 16-year-old Connor Ellis signed for Cork City, his aim was clear.
“I wanted to make the long process from the U19s to get into the senior team.”
The West Cork youngster initially had to bide his time, to prove himself with Stephen Bermingham’s all-conquering U19 side before sustaining himself at a higher level when he was sent on loan to Cobh Ramblers.
Four goals in ten appearances in the SSE Airtricity league first division was enough to earn him his first professional contract with the FAI Cup winners and a guarantee from manager John Caulfield that he will be given game time. But as Cork City made it six wins from six at the start of the new premier division campaign, Ellis admitted his surprise at the number of minutes he has played so far.
“If I’m honest I didn’t expect to be getting runs this early in the season because we have such a strong team,” said Ellis.
“I was looking at maybe June or July time to be breaking onto the scene but I felt I had a good pre-season and John (Caulfield) has given me the chance in a few games and I have scored a few goals so it's going well (touches wood) so far.
“But I’ve still a lot of work to do, he seems to have good time for me and as a kid you’re thinking maybe he’s just saying that to keep me happy and keep me as a squad player. But to be fair, he’s given me the chances and then it’s down to me. If I don’t take the chances, I can’t be moaning about not getting game time but (again touches wood) it’s going well for me so far.”
Ellis, now 19, has made a promising start to his City career. After picking up his first winner’s medal following the Presidents Cup victory against Dundalk, the former Bantry Bay Rovers man has already notched two goals in five substitute appearances this season.
What is more impressive is those appearances combined total less than an hour of competitive football played, giving him a strike rate that rivals the top strikers in the league, including team mate Seanie Maguire.
“It’s good at the moment but its early days, if I have a goal in every 30-minute ratio at the end of the season then I’ll be saying something,” joked the City number 17.
“But after a few games it’s not something to get too excited about. To be honest, it was great to score two goals but its only two goals, if I walk around the place thinking I’ve made it because I’ve scored a couple of goals, I’m going to have a fairly fast fall.
“I look at the likes of Seanie (Maguire) who has scored game after game for the last couple of years and he’s level headed.
“Every day after training he’s out doing extra training, I aspire to be like that. I’ve no illusions about myself, I know I’m a long way off the finished article, I need to keep my head down keep working hard.
“I’m only 19, it’s a bit unrealistic to think I’m going to be playing for the best team in the country week in week out so rather than looking at it that he’s (Seanie Maguire) keeping me out of the team, I look at it that I can learn from him and take aspects of his game into my own. I just want to keep learning from him because he has the ability to go right to the top.”
It’s that mature attitude that has seen Ellis already make giant strides in his relatively short career.
The Birmingham City fan couldn’t hide his delight at finding the net in front of the Shed for his first goal for the seniors in their emphatic win over Galway United. A moment he celebrated afterwards with his family who were in attendance.
“Your first goal for Cork is always going to be great but it was more of just getting onto the pitch that I was happy with because it means you’re in John (Caulfield’s) plans,” added Ellis. “Achille (Campion) flicked it on and Stephen Folan was chasing me, he was at Cork himself a couple of years ago so I fancied myself that I could beat him for pace.
“I looked across and realised I was in on goal so I just kept the head down, hit it low and hard across goal and thankfully it went into the corner. It was great to get your first goal, it takes the weight of your shoulders, and it’s been the perfect start for me so far, it couldn’t have gone any better.
“I spent a bit of time with my family after that goal, it was nice for my mom and dad who gave up a lot of time to drive me around to see me score my first.”
The Keakil native should be able to drive himself to and from games in the near future as he currently undergoes driving instructions.
For the time being he relies on parents but mainly three of his team mates who he shares a house with in Wilton. Ellis was fortunate to avoid having to live in the other house occupied by numerous Cork City first teamers in Carrigtwohill as the shorter distance to training and the gym in the Maradyke arena has already been of benefit to the teenager.
“The biggest improvement I’ve felt is physically,” insisted Ellis.
“Over Christmas Cork City had me in the gym and in the last three months I’ve put on seven or eight kilos and it’s helped me a lot. I feel physically stronger, more powerful running in behind or holding the ball up, I feel a lot more ready to play senior football than I did last season.
“The goal against Galway when Achille (Campion) played me through I gave the defender a little nudge and got myself half a yard. Kevin Tattan (Cork City strength and conditioning coach) said afterwards that this time last year I probably would have been shoved off the ball so it’s good when you’re putting the work in the gym and you get the rewards from it.
“But I need to keep working hard and keep getting stronger.” Ellis has bought into the mantra set by the manger to remain level headed and to constantly improve as the Leesider’s look to claim the league title.
It has already seen him successfully make the long journey from U19 stalwart to senior team goal scorer.