GREYSTONES footballer Gareth McDonagh has been announced as the winner of RTÉ's Football's Next Star writes Mary Fogarty.
The series, presented by Nicky Byrne, featured 10 young Irish footballers who battled it out each week to win a place in Celtic FC's prestigious Youth Academy.
Gareth has been playing at Celtic FC's Youth Academy since the show ended, training and playing matches anonymously to keep his identity secret.
Gareth impressed club bosses with his goal scoring skills when touring Portugal with the Youth Academy and, on Neil Lennon's (Celtic FC Manager) suggestion, has also played and scored with the first team reserves in the few short months since the show ended.
Neil Lennon is a big fan; while watching Celtic's reserves losing 1-0 to Blackpool, he intervened and asked the head coach to put Gareth on.
Gareth made an immediate impact scoring an equalizer within minutes of coming on. Gareth is also making a name for himself with the Celtic 1st team players, as the squad has been glued to iPads and laptops watching RTÉ's Football's Next Star on their travels across Europe in the Champion's League.
'Gareth is a very deserving winner of Football's Next Star,' said Chris McCart, head of Celtic FC's Youth Academy.
'During the entire process, he showed true commitment and fantastic ability to achieve first place in the competition.
'He is continuing to perform at a high level and we have high hopes for him.
'He knows he has a great opportunity here and will give him every support to make sure he has a chance of achieving success with Celtic. He also knows that a lot of hard work will be required and he is ready for this.'
Football obsessed Gareth, who until recently played for St. Joseph's Football Club in Sallynoggin, Co. Dublin, battled his way from hundreds of footballers to make it through to the 10 finalists.
Over eight weeks, Gareth and the nine other hopefuls were given the opportunity to get a taste of what life as a professional footballer was really like.
They were put to the test with a series of intense training sessions and faced tough matches against quality teams.
However, they soon learned that their hard work paid off and that rewards were plenty for those who stood out from their competitors.
Gareth continued to impress the coaches throughout the weeks and with the approval of Celtic FC's legendary manager, Neil Lennon, the Celtic FC Youth Academy coaches believed he had the star quality they were looking for to become part of the renowned Celtic FC Youth Academy.