Having already waited three years to experience the thrill of being among European football’s elite once more, Celtic were forced to hang on until the final seconds of the Champions League draw ceremony to discover their group stage fate.
The Scottish champions were the last of the 32 teams pulled from the pots in Monte Carlo, landing in a tantalising but devilishly tough Group C alongside Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
For Celtic’s young left-back Kieran Tierney, watching it all unfold yesterday evening was something of a surreal experience. Not just because the small plastic ball containing his club’s name was drawn by Roberto Carlos, the former Real Madrid and Brazil left-back upon whom he has modelled his own game.
But because it is just under four years since Tierney was a ball boy on the evening Celtic famously defeated Barcelona 2-1 in the Champions League with goals by Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt.
Now Tierney’s rapid rise as one of Scottish football’s brightest talents will move to a new level as he rubs shoulders with some of the world’s biggest names on the pitch instead of looking on in awe from the sidelines.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” admitted Tierney. “The last four years have flown in for me and I can’t believe the wee ball boy who was in the corner of the stadium that night against Barcelona will hopefully be playing against them now. I remember I was just in front of where the Green Brigade are at Celtic Park when Wanyama scored. He ran straight towards me, but checked away at the last minute before I could try and celebrate with him!
“I was there for a lot of Champions League games. I think Shunsuke Nakamura’s free-kick against Manchester United was the best memory for me, then the Barcelona game.
“I remember I couldn’t concentrate at school on the days I was going to be a ball boy for a Champions League game, I was so excited.
“Playing in the Champions League is brilliant for a club like Celtic. I think that is where we belong. The teams we are drawn against are very tough teams and we will need to be at our best.
“Everyone had been asking me who I wanted us to draw but I didn’t have a preference. Every team you get is a tough team as everyone is there for a reason.
“But obviously Barcelona is the place where you want to play football against great players. No matter who you get, it’s going to be big names. It’s the best of the best you are playing. There are no easy options and no easy groups.
“It’s going to be tough but we are not going to just make up the numbers as we have qualified in our own right as well. If we do the right work on the training field and do the right work then, you never know what can happen.
“It’s great for everyone and for a lot of the Scottish boys in our team, it’s going to be the first time in the Champions League and that’s great for Scottish football. If we get picked for the national side then we can take these experiences on to that stage.”
Like everyone connected with Celtic, Tierney endured a torrid experience in Israel on Tuesday night as Brendan Rodgers’ side secured their place in the group stage with a nerve-wracking 5-4 aggregate win over Hapoel Beer-Sheva.
“On the pitch it was bad for me,” he said of the 2-0 defeat. “I didn’t have a great game at all and I was disappointed in that.
“But when the final whistle went it was just relief that we were through. It is not an easy thing we did. To play six games to get into the Champions League is hard. But we won all three ties to get there.
“Was it the highest I’ve ever felt at full-time in a game? One hundred per cent. It was the fact it was so close, we didn’t know by 80 minutes if we were through. It went right to the end. I wanted it to be easier than that but I’m just delighted we made it.
“The draw is good in the sense there is not a lot of travelling or any big time differences to deal with, which we had a lot of in the qualifying matches.
“Playing Manchester City will be great, everyone watches English football and they will be great occasions.
“And German football is always top quality, so it will be two hard games against Borussia Moenchengladbach as well.”
The bookmakers inevitably have Barcelona and Manchester City as odds-on favourites to qualify from the group, notionally leaving Celtic to scrap it out with Borussia for third place and progress to the last 32 of the Europa League.
“We’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out,” said Tierney. “Any team can beat any team on their day.”