Friday 23 February 2018

Prodigy O'Connell shows teen kicks are so hard to beat

St Mirren 1 Celtic 2

Celtic's Eoghan O'Connell and St Mirren's Callum Ball
Celtic's Eoghan O'Connell and St Mirren's Callum Ball
St Mirren's Callum Ball and Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre
Celtic's John Guidetti is tackled by St Mirren's Marc McAusland and Jim Goodwin

Adam Fallon

Celtic manager Ronny Deila had special words of praise for Eoghan O'Connell after the 19-year-old Corkman took another quiet step in his career on Saturday.

O'Connell, who replaced the injured Jason Denayer in Celtic's League Cup win over Hearts at Parkhead last Saturday, made his fourth appearance of the season in the victory over the Buddies.

The Cork teenager has been a revelation at Parkhead since being signed two years ago from Avondale United, making his SPL debut last March against Ross County.

Since then, Deila has shown similar faith to his predecessor Neil Lennon in the teen by involving him as a permanent part of the Celtic first-team squad following his appointment in the summer.

O'Connell - first cousin of Ireland rugby captain Paul O'Connell - has found the going tougher on the international stage. Despite his progress at Celtic last season, he was overlooked by manager Paul Doolin throughout Ireland's UEFA U-19 Championship qualifying campaign.

Thankfully for the defender, Ireland's U-21 boss Noel King seems to appreciate his talent. Although he was an unused substitute in their concluding UEFA qualifier against Germany three weeks ago, O'Connell is in line for his U-21 debut on Friday week in Oslo when Ireland face Norway in a friendly.

Not since Darren O'Dea broke into the team in 2006 has an Irish-born defender featured for an extended period in the Bhoys' line-up.

Things looked promising for highly-rated Richie Towell making his Celtic bow in November 2010 but it was the first and last time the Dubliner graced the top table.

Most of the fuss after the match at St Mirren Park was around Hoops striker John Guidetti, who fired in the second-half winner and also claimed the opener just before the break, despite Saints player-coach Jim Goodwin appearing to make the final touch in a melee which also involved Buddies 'keeper Marian Kello.

There was laughter in the media room when Deila revealed Kris Commons missed the game with a buttock injury, although the Norwegian is hoping the midfielder will be back for the Europa League clash with Dinamo Zagreb at Celtic Park on Thursday night.


And while not best pleased with his side's performance, the former Stromsgodset boss was impressed by former Hoops youth player O'Connell, who went about his job at the heart of the Celtic defence with minimal fuss.

"He is progressing," said Deila. "He was better than he was on Wednesday, he was a little bit nervous then.

"Against St Mirren he played with confidence and won a lot of challenges in the air. He is only 19 years old and he is a talented player."

Midfielder Kenny McLean levelled for St Mirren just after the break but Guidetti restored Celtic's lead in the 63rd minute to take the points back to the east end of Glasgow.

The defeat kept Saints in second bottom with only one win in seven league games, but basement boys Ross County's win over Dundee means the Buddies' advantage is now only through goal difference, albeit they have a game in hand over the Staggies.

St Mirren manager Tommy Craig knows he cannot take continuing hard luck stories to the Premiership bank.

He said: "It was disappointing that we didn't hold them to 1-1 for a bit longer to allow us to settle down and overall I was disappointed not to take at least a point.

"I have to take some encouragement from the fact that we stuck to our jobs.

"But in a few days from now it will just go down as another defeat and that is the annoying thing.

"How often have you heard me this season say that we played well but took nothing from the game?"

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