Thursday 14 December 2017

McCourt hoping to be centre of attention at Celtic

Gavin McCafferty

Celtic winger Paddy McCourt has been playing in a deep midfield position for much of pre-season but it is a different kind of central role he craves.

McCourt perhaps made the most crucial single intervention last season for Celtic when he came off the bench at Fir Park in November with his side 15 points behind Premier League leaders Rangers.

Celtic were drawing 1-1 with second-placed Motherwell until McCourt embarked on one of his direct and skilful runs to set up Gary Hooper for the winner.

That was the start of a 17-match winning run in the SPL for Celtic but McCourt only made three substitute's appearances during that sequence, as a mixture of a niggling injury and, mainly, an inability to force his way into Neil Lennon's line-up saw him play a peripheral role.

"I'm hoping to play as much as possible. I don't think I played that big a role last year through one thing or another," McCourt said. "I'm hoping to contribute a bit more this year."

The Northern Ireland international would be happy to drop deeper in order to get a game.

"I don't really mind, to be honest," he said. "I know it's a cliche to say 'as long as I'm in the team' but I genuinely mean that. If the manager sees me playing there then I've no problem playing there.

"I haven't played that role that much but I started to play it towards the end of last season. The more I play it, the more I'm getting used to it."

McCourt has been linked with a move away during most transfer windows, with Blackpool consistently showing an interest, but he has not had any offers this summer.

"It's early yet," he said. "The manager or (chief executive) Peter (Lawwell) haven't come to me and said there are any offers or anything. Until that happens there is no decision to make."

The former Derry City star has featured heavily in pre-season and will naturally be looking for some assurance that he remains in Lennon's plans when the season starts.

But his immediate aim is to help Celtic, who host Inter Milan in a friendly match this afternoon (kick-off 1.30), into the Champions League group stages, with their first match of two potential qualifying ties taking place at home to HJK Helsinki on Wednesday.

"It's crucial for the team, more importantly," he said of the next few weeks. "It starts on Wednesday night, the season kicks off from there.

"Personally I just want to contribute as much as I can -- the team is the most important thing and that's what I'll be concentrating on."

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