Celtic’s Tom Rogic ready for Old Firm debut

Celtic's Tom Rogic prepares to face Rangers for the first time. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Celtic's Tom Rogic prepares to face Rangers for the first time. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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The distance was a drop in the ocean compared to the 10,500 miles which Tom Rogic undertook just to get to Celtic. Yet, those 30 yards have elevated the Australian into a different universe.

One swing of his left boot four weeks ago at Rugby Park changed everything. The dramatic last-minute winner against Kilmarnock could turn out to be a defining moment in the Scottish Premiership title race. Rogic’s golden goal was given endless television reruns back in Australia, as it was here.

The 23-year-old midfielder was engulfed by Celtic fans at Rugby Park on March 19, but the impact has been deeper and longer-lasting. The boy from Canberra who used to be on the periphery at Celtic is now at the heart of things.

Nothing will underline that more than today’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers.

Last season when the sides met in the League Cup semi-final, Rogic was in the Hampden Park stand recovering from a long-term groin injury which completely took out 2014-15.

Rogic was so far off the radar that when he played against Partick Thistle at the start of this season, it was his first Celtic start in two years. He provided the opening goal of the Premiership campaign that day at Firhill, one of 32 appearances while scoring eight times.

The last of those, at Kilmarnock, is etched into his own memory just as firmly as the Celtic supporters. “I think you saw what it meant to everyone at the club, the way the fans behind the goals reacted,” reflected Rogic. “To be able to do that was pretty special. It proved to be a pretty important day. With Aberdeen losing straight afterwards, we put a bit of distance between us.

“The results the past couple of weeks don’t change things too much. It doesn’t really matter what our lead in the league is going into this match, it’s not going to change our focus on how important this match is. It’s nice to be sitting where we are but our focus is on the semi-final.”

It is remarkable that despite joining Celtic from Central Coast Mariners in January 2013, Rogic has never played against Rangers. His injuries and their lower-tier status have seen to that.

“I have been at the club a long time, so I am really looking forward to the game,” said Rogic.

“I was here last year but obviously I watched it from the stands. It was a lot different to playing in the game. No footballer wants to watch. But that was my experience for a long time. This season has obviously been a lot different.

“I did think it was possible that I wouldn’t get to play in this game. There are boys here who have been through it and you hear about it from them. You can watch videos of it but it’s not the same. However, I can rely on their experience.

“We have leaders in the dressing room, guys who have played in a lot of big matches, so that contributes to getting all of the squad ready.”

If Rogic made his mark on the Celtic supporters, they have done the same for him to underline the importance of Glasgow’s derby. “You do get a feel of what it means to the fans,” Rogic acknowledges. “ We can’t control that, we understand what it means to everyone. As players, our jobs is to be calm and focused on the job. It’s important not to get too carried away.”

Not unless the Australian scores another last-minute 30-yarder to win the game.