Celtic youngster Eoghan O’Connell has unshakeable belief in his ability to retain his place in an oversubscribed Hoops defence.
The 20-year-old centre-back made his Celtic debut against Ross County at Parkhead in March 2014, but progression was neither quick nor smooth, and loan spells at Oldham and home town club Cork City ended through ankle and groin injuries respectively.
Defenders Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic missed the start of this campaign through injury and when Erik Sviatchenko picked up a groin complaint it allowed O’Connell to impress new boss Brendan Rodgers and, although former Arsenal and Manchester City star Kolo Toure was added to the squad, the Corkman kept his place at the expense of Efe Ambrose.
O’Connell is certain to play in the Betfred Cup last-16 tie against Motherwell at Celtic Park tonight as Ambrose is suspended and Toure a doubt after playing his first 90 minutes of the season in the 2-1 win over Hearts on Sunday.
Left-back Kieran Tierney’s shoulder knock renders him a doubt while midfielder Stefan Johansen and Leigh Griffiths will serve a one-game ban.
But O’Connell is looking to keep his place even when Rodgers has all his players.
“Last year was a tough year for me, I had to keep going through injury twice but I have always had that belief.
“I made my debut three seasons ago and I have had the belief since then that I was ready to play if called upon and I felt that when I was called upon that I did quite well.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t happen like that, but I don’t think you can ever lose that belief or that mentality.
“I certainly didn’t lose belief and I didn’t let it get me down. Yes, it was tough but I kept going through it.
“I knew there was a chance when I came back for pre-season so I worked as hard as I could and it has led to this.
“You have to have confidence and believe in yourself and the games I have played so far, I have been happy with the way it went and I will look to continue.
“The manager said he trusts me and it is good that he has that faith in me to put me in.
“But I don’t think I would be here if I wasn’t ready to play.
“I didn’t really get that chance when the previous manager [Ronny Deila] was here but that’s just football, that’s the way it is and we move on from there.”
Few at Celtic are better placed to assess O’Connell than first-team coach John Kennedy. The former centre-back also came through the youth setup at Parkhead before injury truncated his areer.
Kennedy believes it is down to O’Connell to show he deserves to keep his place.
“I have worked with him with a long time, I was here when we brought him here as a trialist,” he said.
“He has developed, worked hard and is getting the reward for that. But it comes down to performances. The manager had no hesitation in putting him in.
“We could have rejigged things and played people out of position but the time was right to put him and he rewarded the manager and everyone else with his performances and it is up to him now to stay there for as long a she possibly can and with players coming back from injury and Kolo coming in, there is a lot of competition there.”
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