Monday 18 December 2017

I won't give up place without a fight - O'Connell

Eoghan O'Connell Photo: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire
Eoghan O'Connell Photo: Jeff Holmes/PA Wire

Roddy Forsyth

Eoghan O'Connell belongs to an illustrious sporting family - his father and brother played for Cork City and cousin Paul was Ireland's rugby captain - but last season the Celtic defender felt as though he had been kicked into touch.

After a bright start to his first-team career in the east end of Glasgow with four appearances early in the 2014-15 campaign, he drifted out of contention; brief loan spells with Oldham and Cork last season were both curtailed because of injury and he made no more appearances after April.

It would have been understandable if O'Connell had been alarmed when Brendan Rodgers took over in June and promptly declared that the Hoops squad was too large.

However, the former Liverpool manager saw enough in early pre-season training sessions to start him in the friendlies against Sturm Graz and Wolfsburg plus International Challenge Cup meetings with Leicester City, in which he scored in a 1-1 draw, and Barcelona.

Even more reassuringly for the 20-year-old, he held his place for the two Champions League qualifiers against Astana and last Sunday's 2-1 victory over Hearts as Celtic began their title defence at Tynecastle.

"I have been around the first team for the last three or four years so I know the way it is and it can change very quickly," said O'Connell.

"Opinions can change. A new manager was coming in, it was a fresh start for everyone and I was just looking to impress him.

"I didn't really expect this. I played a few games but it was always one-in, one-out kind of a thing. I had never really had a run and it is difficult to plant a seed in people's heads that you are ready to play if you are only getting one game.

"Now I'm hoping to prove to people that I am ready and good enough to play here.

"I came back to pre-season on the back of an injury and so I was trying to get my fitness back as quickly as I could. I played in all the pre-season games and I really enjoyed that.

"Things went my way against Leicester. I got a chance and thankfully I took it, which was in Astana, and it's gone on from there."

First-team coach John Kennedy has also been impressed by O'Connell's attitude, saying: "You have to believe in yourself. You've got to work hard and take the opportunity when it comes around, because you may only get one. It's important you make an impression. Eoghan has managed to do that with the new manager coming in.

"You need to puff your chest out and say, 'I can play'. The ones who don't do that often get found out, but Eoghan has come in and taken responsibility by saying, 'Give me the ball,' and when he's had to defend he's defended well.

"We're going to have a lot of competition soon with Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic back, while Kolo Touré has come in, but at the moment Eoghan has got the jersey."

O'Connell is likely to extend his run in tonight's Scottish League Cup tie against Motherwell, for which Efe Ambrose, Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Johansen are banned.

Motherwell, who lost 7-0 at Celtic Park in last season's final league game, welcome back captain Keith Lasley after suspension. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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