Marginalised Paddy McCourt ready for his ‘last roll of the dice’ at Celtic
HE MAY have scored some of the most memorable goals in Celtic’s recent history, but that hasn’t prevented Paddy McCourt from becoming something of a forgotten man. Despite the often mesmerising skills which have made him a favourite of the Celtic support since he signed from Derry City four years ago, the Northern Ireland international winger has lacked the fitness and consistency necessary to hold down a regular first-team slot.
McCourt made only two starting appearances for Neil Lennon’s team last season, neither of them in the SPL, and as he enters the final year of his contract at the club he freely admits it will be his final opportunity to establish himself as a first pick. “I haven’t really spoken to the manager about it,” said the 28-year-old. “I’m just getting on with pre-season as normal until there’s an offer or an enquiry from a club. That’s all I can do. I’m just trying to get as fit as possible and get ready for the new season.
“I’ve got a year left on my contract here so it’s maybe the last roll of the dice for me. I would imagine that if I don’t play more this year I would be very unlikely to still be here next year. There are a million things for me to think about. It would depend on the club, whether I leave before the transfer window closes. I would have to speak to the manager as I’m still under contract, so it might not even be my decision. I don’t think there are any offers in for me at the minute, so there is nothing to think about it.”
McCourt, who hopes to feature in today’s friendly against Inter Milan at Celtic Park, has been used in a more central playmaking midfield role by Lennon during part of the club’s pre-season preparations so far. He has enjoyed the departure, although he chuckles at the suggestion he could emerge as Celtic’s version of Italian Euro 2012 star Andrea Pirlo. “I don’t know about that, maybe more like Andrea McLean,” laughed McCourt. “But towards the end of last season the manager started playing me in there for a few games, coming off the bench and into central midfield. I enjoy it in there as you get plenty of the ball.
“If that’s where he sees me playing, I’ve no problem with that. I feel quite comfortable there. I hadn’t really played central midfield before as a mainstay as I was normally just off the front man or out wide. Sometimes when you’re playing out wide you can stand for 10 to 15 minutes and not see the ball whereas in the central areas you’re a lot more involved, especially with the way we play where everything goes through the midfield. We don’t lump it long too often. At times I’ve done well in there but it’s up to the manager now if he wants me to play there. The problem is that we don’t really play a formation which accommodates a number 10, if you like. The manager likes 4-4-2, with two strikers, and our strikers have done well with Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper scoring a lot of goals. I know we played Kris Commons in that different role in a different formation a few times at the end of last season, but on the whole we go 4-4-2.”
Irrespective of how the next few weeks or months pan out, McCourt insists he will never have any regrets about his time at Celtic. “In my first year here, I was quite happy and made a good number of appearances. It hasn’t stayed that way and last season didn’t go so well. But I’ve still enjoyed my time here, even though I’d like to play more.
“Celtic is the only club I’d have stayed at in these circumstances, what with not getting as much game time as I would like. I went to England as a 16-year-old, hoping to earn a move to Celtic one day. That’s what I dreamed of and when I went home to Ireland after it didn’t work out in English football, I thought it had gone for me. So to get a second chance and actually join Celtic, you tend to hang on a wee bit more in the hope that things will change and you will play more. But I’ve got no regrets. Since the first minute I walked through the door, I’ve loved every minute of it. If I stay, I will keep contributing to the team as much as I can. I won’t ever play for another club like this.”
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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