Europe reveals truth about Celtic's standing
Mary Harney - remember her? - once garnered a few headlines by stating that politically Ireland was closer to Boston than Berlin.
The problem for Celtic at the moment is that European football is revealing the Glasgow club to be closer to Dundalk than Manchester. For all the pretence that Celtic in some sense inhabit the same universe as the top Premier League clubs, the sad truth is that their recent European exploits have a distinct League of Ireland look to them.
How different, for example, was their 4-3 aggregate loss against Malmo to Dundalk's 2-1 eclipse by BATE Borisov? Malmo and Borisov had strikingly similar records in last year's Champions League group stages, winning one and losing five of their matches while finishing bottom of their group. And two seasons ago Malmo made heavy weather of beating Drogheda United 2-0 over two legs in the Europa League. That was the same competition where they lost 4-0 on aggregate to Swansea City.
In other words, this season's Champions League campaign turned out to be almost as embarrassing for Celtic as last year's when, after losing 6-1 to Legia Warsaw (who'd beaten St Patrick's Athletic by the exact same score) they were reprieved on a technicality only to lose 2-1 to FK Maribor from the 30th-in-Europe-ranked Slovenian league, a team who subsequently couldn't win a single match in the group stages. The poverty of such displays renders the Irish TV coverage of Celtic's adventures with its invocation of "great European nights at Celtic Park," hilariously inappropriate. The stuff on the pitch is disconnected from the fervour in the stands to an almost surreal extent.
Still, there's always the Scottish Premier League which, given the absolute lack of serious competition, Celtic will win by a large margin. Tired and emotional GAA hacks occasionally give themselves a thrill by suggesting that, "Jim McGuinness could manage Celtic." This is true to the extent that Jim Corr or Mairéad McGuinness could also manage Celtic and they'd still win the league title. But it is European football which reveals the truth about where the club really stands and that truth can't be camouflaged no matter how much archive footage of Tommy Gemmell and Steve Chalmers is stuck in front of it.
It's a truth universally accepted that a European tie against Celtic is a dream draw for a League of Ireland team on the basis that it represents a big pay day.
But right now such a tie would also give the League of Ireland team every chance of advancing. Had Celtic met Dundalk this season, I'd have backed the Oriel Park side to turn them over.
Still, there's always next year.
Sunday Indo Sport