Drinan was the new 'Murph' who was made to wait but did enough to earn another shot
- Credit: Archant
Striker Aaron Drinan has left Ipswich Town to join Leyton Orient. Andy Warren looks back on his career at Portman Road.
There were various points when it looked as if Aaron Drinan’s Ipswich Town was coming to an end – now it has.
The 23-year-old Irish frontman was something of a forgotten figure at Portman Road as he waited more than two-and-a-half years for a debut. But to his great credit, he never gave up, kept pushing and ultimately did enough to force his way into Ipswich’s first-team picture and ultimately earned a good move away from Suffolk.
He arrived as an unknown from Waterford in January of 2018 but soon made an impression, with the words of manager Mick McCarthy and captain Luke Chambers raising optimism levels quickly.
“I think he’s done brilliantly in training and he has shown improvement almost every day,” Chambers said. “He has been kicking me left, right and centre and treading on my toes in training. He’d run through that wall if he had to and is an exciting prospect alright.”
Quickly nicknamed Murph, after fellow Irish striker Daryl Murphy, the expectation was maybe too great on a player with minimal experience in Irish football and plenty to learn.
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It was surprising he didn’t make his debut before McCarthy’s exit though, with five unused substitute appearances, before Paul Hurst overlooked the striker during his one summer at Town and sent him out to begin a series of loan moves.
He scored once in 22 games at Sutton in the National League, during the first half of 2018/19, before finishing that campaign with a good run back at Waterford, where he netted seven times in 19 games.
The next stop, after failing to make a first-team breakthrough once again in the summer of 2019, was GAIS in Sweden, where he failed to score in nine games, before a decent run at Ayr in the Scottish second division which yielded three goals in 10 games.
And so we arrive in the summer of 2020 when, being honest, most fans would have put their pound on the striker moving on, rather than finally making his push into the first-team. His loan spells brought some promise but little suggestion he was ready to reach Paul Lambert’s starting XI.
But that’s exactly what he did. He was involved throughout pre-season, showing plenty of ability and scoring twice as Town returned from their Covid-enforced absence with a pair of victories over Colchester United.
James Norwood, Kayden Jackson and Oli Hawkins all suffered with injuries during the summer, meaning Drinan entered the season as Town’s leading man. He didn’t score but did play well as he finally made his Ipswich debut in a 3-0 Carabao Cup victory over Bristol Rovers.
He led the line again as the league campaign got going against Wigan a week later, showing plenty of ability, before being cruelly forced off with a thigh injury which kept him out until the end of November. With Norwood, Jackson and Hawkins now fit again, it felt like his chance had gone.
But he stuck around the first-team, making five more starts and a further 16 substitute appearances, while netting his only goal for the club with a bundled effort at Crewe.
With change in the air and ‘Demolition Man’ Paul Cook swinging his wrecking ball, the club opted, somewhat surprisingly, to trigger the one-year extension option in his contract ahead of the 2021/22 season, but the plan always appeared to offload him as new recruits arrived.
That’s exactly what happened as the Irishman joined Leyton Orient for an undisclosed, nominal, fee.
While his career at Ipswich ends at this point, Drinan leaves having done enough to earn himself another shot at the professional game in England. He deserves great credit for that.
He departs having scored one goal in 24 Ipswich appearances.
What went well
Drinan obviously made a quick impact on his team-mates in January of 2018, given how much praise he received from the likes of Chambers and McCarthy at the time.
And, during his early weeks in Ipswich’s Under 23s we saw a glimpse of that combative approach as he found the net regularly enough.
He had to wait two-and-a-half years for a debut but was able to show flashes of what he is all about there, too.
He’s in control of what he’s doing, offering a good outlet to his team-mates and showing ability to lay nice balls off to them with his back to goal.
He works hard, running channels and looking to put defenders under pressure, and is decent in the air.
Areas to improve
Simply, he needs to score more goals and get on the end of more chances.
For all the good link-play he was able to produce, sadly the Irishman wasn’t able to threaten the opposition goal anywhere near enough as he operated away from the penalty area.
He did have chances, though and he should really have capped his good display against Bristol Rovers with a goal, but stabbed his shot straight at the goalkeeper as he connected well with an Alan Judge cross.
Other chances came and went, too, with a couple of headers clipping the crossbar before he ultimately got his goal at Crewe.
While it’s probably only fair to note he wasn’t exactly playing in a team capable of creating a steady stream of opportunities, the young Irishman will need to pose more of a threat if he is to be a success at Orient.
What the future holds
The move to Orient, on a two-year deal no less, is a good one for Drinan after his appearances for Ipswich over the last year earned him a move to League Two.
He’s been signed by experienced manager Kenny Jackett, a man who has previously had success with strikers of Drinan’s stature and will surely benefit the striker’s career at a time when he’s still finding his way in the senior game.
Orient finished 11th last season and will be hopeful of improving on that, having also added experienced campaigners Omar Beckles and Darren Pratley to their ranks.
A fresh start at Brisbane Road may be exactly what the Irishman needs to get his career well-and-truly off-and-running.