Rising star O’Connell takes on Europe’s finest in Uefa’s Youth League

All adventures must come to an end, yet Eoghan O’Connell isn’t too downbeat about his Uefa Champions League ride fizzling out in Barcelona.

The Cork youngster has started every game for Celtic in the first year of the Uefa Youth League, which has been nicknamed the ‘mini Champions League’ as it caters for U19 players.

Paired with European heavyweights Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax, the fight to reach the knockout stages was always going to be a tough one for O’Connell and his team-mates.

Still, the boy from Ballinlough insists the experience has helped him improve as a player and it may even propel him towards the ultimate dream of playing in the real Champions League.

“I thought we played well in our games against AC Milan and Ajax, but this is a really good level and from one to 11 every team is packed with quality players,” said O’Connell.

“Every game has been really competitive and we knew if we got a draw in any of them we would be doing well. But I thought we outplayed Milan and were better than Ajax — it’s just about getting results.

“Obviously, you would like to go on and play in the Champions League for the first team, but this is a great stepping stone as it introduces you to new styles of play and brings the best out in you.”

O’Connell is one of four Irish teenagers to feature in the competition in its debut season — Ryan McConnell and Sam Byrne have played for Manchester United and Jack Byrne for Manchester City.

The quartet are all on Paul Doolin’s radar for the Republic of Ireland U19 side and O’Connell is eager to make a career in the game — despite 95% of young players being released by UK clubs before reaching the first team.

“I still have a lot to improve on, but I feel these games, as well as being at a big club like Celtic, are helping me to develop into a better player. I just have to keep working hard and hope a breakthrough happens,” he said.

“We’ve travelled with the first team for their European games so I’ve got to see what it is all about and I want that.”


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