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Emotional mission for McGeady as Hoops hit Moscow

HE WENT there as a boy and left Celtic Park as a grown man with an €11m price tag on his head.

SO tonight's Champions League tie for Spartak Moscow's Aiden McGeady against Celtic is not just another game in a long season for the Ireland international - tonight will be his 33rd appearance for club and country in this calendar year - but an evening full of emotion for the 26-year-old.

There's a lot at stake, as Spartak already have some catching up to do in the Champions League after an opening-day defeat away by Barcelona, but it's also an evening of personal matters for McGeady as he plays against Celtic for the first time in a game of any consequence.

He did once line out against the Bhoys, when he played for part of the game in an Irish shirt when an Ireland XI took on Celtic at Parkhead in Jackie McNamara's testimonial back in 2005. That day, McGeady started the game for Celtic but swapped sides at half-time and came on for Ireland as a second-half sub.

But tonight's game has far greater consequences of course, on what's bound to be an evening full of emotion for the Ireland international.

"I spent 12 years at Celtic. I grew up there, I got into the first team and I still follow the club. I watch their games on TV or on the internet whenever I can," says McGeady.

"The last time I was in Celtic Park was last December, for the derby against Rangers. Celtic won 1-0.

"It was a shock for me when we drew Celtic in the draw. We could have been drawn with any of the teams from pot four but we got Celtic.

"I was happy because it gave me a chance to play against my former club. It has changed a lot since I was there. Scott Brown is really the only player left from the team that I started with.

"It will be great for me to go back to Celtic Park when Spartak go there for the final game of the Champions League group stage in December.

"I've had loads of texts and calls since the draw was made, but the first one I got after the draw was made and we were in the same group as Celtic was from Charlie Mulgrew. We started off together at Celtic at the same time, when we were 12," says McGeady.


"When he was 18 he went off to play somewhere else and he ended up going back to Celtic just as I was leaving to go to Spartak, but in all that time we remained close," he added.

McGeady already has some memories of Celtic-Spartak clashes, as the teams met in the qualifying round of the Champions League in 2007, Celtic winning through on penalties after two 1-1 draws.

"I remember those games well, especially the match at Celtic Park," he says. "I know a lot of Celtic fans consider that to be one of the most memorable in the club's history in Europe: a lot of scoring chances, two missed penalties, dramatic extra time, a draw and then penalty kicks.

"Celtic were the ones to go through to the group stages but Spartak played very well and I knew from those matches just how strong the Russian premier league was.

"And I remember in 2009 Celtic played Dinamo Moscow in the qualifying rounds again, I was up against (current team-mate) Dima Kombarov, who'd have thought that within a year we would be team-mates at Spartak?"

The opening week of the group stages saw McGeady's Spartak lose 3-2 away to Barcelona while Celtic drew 0-0 at home to Benfica.

"That draw was a good result for us, but the draw was also not a bad result for Celtic. It's the first time in a while that Celtic have played in the group stages of the Champions League. Celtic have a team of young players who don't have that level of experience so the experience of playing Benfica will benefit them," he says.

"This Celtic team is a young side who want to show what they are capable of. It will be a hard game for us tonight because Scottish teams always fight until the last minute.

"I hope we'll have a big support in the Luzhniki Stadium tonight to help us on.

"It's hard to pick out just one player as one to watch in the Celtic side because they are all equal, but one player who does stand out is Charlie Mulgrew. He was the best player in Scotland last year. James Forrest is a very tricky player and a big danger is Gary Hooper, he scores a lot of goals."

McGeady also revealed that he was able to nip home to Glasgow for a short visit recently. "Just after Ireland's game in Kazakhstan the manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, gave me a day off to go from London to Glasgow. It was a great chance for me to celebrate my daughter's first birthday with my family and then I went back to London for the game against Oman."

Next week he will turn his thoughts to international duties once again ahead of the World Cup qualifiers against Germany and the Faroe Islands, but for now all that matters is the Champions League.