WHILE he might be holed up in his lair in Lennoxtown, such seclusion hasn’t stopped Ronny Deila feeling the pulse of the Old Firm countdown.
The Celtic manager reported that “the whole club is thinking and talking about it” in response to a question about whether he feels disadvantaged having never experienced an Old Firm derby before. He has, he countered, experienced many games that have to be won previously in his career, both in Norway and Scotland.
In any case, he has plenty of colleagues who can offer first-hand accounts of what is a special kind of madness. He says he likes to think he knows what is coming.
There is no point denying the special properties of an Old Firm fixture. It is not just another game.
While he has experienced big European nights at Celtic Park, the presence of an opposition with whom Celtic share such a unique rivalry means there will be an extra charge on Sunday. It will also be intensified by the time – nearly three years – since the teams last met.
“I have not felt the atmosphere before but I think it is going to be much louder than I am used to but then that is why I am managing,” Deila said at a becalmed and snowy Hampden yesterday. “You train out in the cold 50 per cent of the time because you are looking forward to these days.
“It is something extra because it is a derby,” he added. “You want to win the city. It is a bigger match than a normal semi-final.”
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In what is a busy time for Deila given that he must also keep one eye on the soon-to-close transfer window, he has, he revealed, barely left Lennoxtown. It isn’t necessarily a case of hunkering down. Rather, Deila is simply trying to focus on his work ahead of his first Old Firm derby, and all that it entails.
Asked whether he has tasted the unique build-up when going out to shops for his messages, for example, Deila replied: “Frankly, I haven’t even been to the shops”.
“I haven’t met anyone,” he added. “I have been in Lennoxtown the whole week. But I know where I can go and where I should go. I know the expectations and want to save my energy for Sunday. You have to choose yourself where you go and what you do.”
He has preferred to remain inside the Celtic camp except for yesterday, when he travelled to Hamden Park for a press call with the other three semi-final managers, including Kenny McDowall, his opposite number on Sunday.
Deila admitted he has tapped both assistant John Collins and John Kennedy, his first-team coach, for memories of playing in an Old Firm derby.
They have been a particular help although Deila’s comment that “I have heard all about Collins’ free-kick” was imbued with some weariness.
It seems to translate as: I have heard quite enough about the memorable free-kick that Collins scored in a highly-charged game at Ibrox in April 1994, when there was a ban issued on Celtic supporters. But he has appreciated both Collins and Kennedy’s input, describing their contribution as “vital” over the last few days.
“I am so happy to have staff who know Scottish football,” he said. “That not only helps me in this situation, but through the whole season.
“I didn’t know much about the other teams and the players and culture and other things. It’s much easier to get it when you have other people next to you.”
“We are a team, the staff and me and the players,” he continued. “I have spoken to them a lot, not only this week but all the time. Good communication is important. I have John Collins and John Kennedy around me, who have played in these games before.”
Deila has, he added, even been on YouTube in order to watch some great moments from past Old Firm derbies, possibly at Collins’ direction. “It is a semi-final so it is big and it is a derby so you can feel there is extra tension around,” he said. “I have watched a couple of games from before [on YouTube] to get a little bit of feeling about the atmosphere. It is going to be a big day.”
Having revealed himself to be a demonstrative man at the end of games, when he is quick to engage with the Celtic supporters, he was asked whether he will show such emotion in such tense circumstances as Sunday, on and off the pitch. “It is hard to say,” he said. “I think it is not going to be too emotional before the game because you are so concentrated on what you are going to do and the task to try and win the game. But, hopefully, if we have a good result it will be easier to enjoy the feelings and the emotions.
“Football is not always fun when you play, but it is fun afterwards,” he added. On this occasion especially, however, he knows the aftermath will only be fun if preceded by victory.