Celtic full-back could be prize guy of the year as he vies for his second Young Player award at tonight’s PFA dinner, writes Moira Gordon
Ayoung lad who has played for his boyhood heroes, winning trophies and games galore, he has experienced Champions League football, and been capped for his country, but Kieran Tierney still had to pinch himself as he and his Celtic team-mates celebrated in front of their own fans at Ibrox last weekend.
Hailing it as “probably the best experience of my life”, the 19-year-old, who has once again been nominated for the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year award by his fellow professionals, revelled in the performance and the result as the Parkhead club moved another step closer to navigating the entire domestic season without a loss.
“It was brilliant and the Celtic fans have been brilliant all season. A win like that is just a reward to them for supporting us,” said Tierney.
“There were people I knew in the crowd. All my family and friends always go everywhere. I was looking for them at Ibrox but I didn’t see them. They are all happy for me. It was a good experience earlier in the season being in the crowd when I was injured but a great experience being on that pitch last Saturday.
“We started off [this season’s derbies against Rangers] with the 5-1 [at Celtic Park, in September] and finished off with another 5-1. In every game, especially those, we’ve been so clinical and we did well.
“Mikael [Lustig, the scorer of the team’s fifth goal] is a brilliant player and to score late on, with such a great goal, shows you how relentless we were in pressing the game up at 85 minutes. It’s great for us.
“Everyone was happy getting back in the dressing room, the atmosphere was good, everyone enjoyed it. It was a really good win and a good changing room after it.”
The success at Ibrox was followed up by more celebrations the following day, with Tierney picking up the young player of the year trophy at the club’s awards night, fending off top goalscorer Moussa Dembele.
He will have to do that again if he is to receive the PFA Scotland accolade at their ceremony tonight. Alongside the Celtic striker and winger Patrick Roberts, Jason Cummings of Hibs is the only outsider to gatecrash the Celtic party. It’s a similar story of Parkhead domination in the main player of the year shortlist, with Dembele joined by colleagues Stuart Armstrong and Scott Sinclair and only Aberdeen’s Jonny Hayes offering any challenge from outwith.
Tierney says that is simply an indication of how impressive Brendan Rodgers’ men have been throughout the season, claiming that the absence of notable performers, such as Scott Brown, from the list of nominees underlines their strength and depth.
“Broony has been brilliant for us all season,” said Tierney. “He’s just a true captain, leads us on the pitch, off the pitch and is a role model for everyone at the club. It just shows you the standards at the club this season that there could’ve been a few more in with a chance of a nomination. It shows how strong we are and what’s happened this season for us has been brilliant.
“It’s great. Last year I was nominated (and won) so to do it a second year is an achievement on its own. Even if I don’t win it, it’s good to get nominated.”
That is a product of his own hard work, though, and a dedication to improve that is aided by the Celtic coaching staff.
“I’ve been working closely with them after training every day just to improve myself and work on my weaknesses – passing, weak foot stuff, crossing, heading, finishing. You just work on it all because I’m not perfect on anything in the game and I need to work on all of them.
“I need to do right foot work. I’ve played right-back for Scotland so if anything comes up like that you need to be ready for it.”
The hard work is paying off, with Tierney considered an automatic starter this term when fit.
“This has been a season with highs and lows. Obviously I was out for two to three months with injury and I had two operations. So coming back from that and winning Celtic’s Young Player of the Year on Sunday was brilliant for me as well,” he said.
Unable to vote for his team-mates, the teenage Scotland cap revealed that Hayes was his choice. A logical option given the playmaker’s influence and the fact that, once again, Aberdeen have been the only team the club have seen in their rearview mirror this season. It was Derek McInnes’s men that Celtic had to beat to secure their first piece of silverware and, with the league title long since settled, and the Pittodrie side likely to finish second for the third year in succession, they are also all that stands between Celtic and the treble.
They meet for their final league head to head on Friday, with Tierney hoping they can maintain their unbeaten run throughout the season. A warm-up for the Scottish Cup final, the full-back does not expect either match to be easy.
“It will be hard games, like every game is. It’s always hard. But it’s just down to what we do and how hard we work off the ball. Our next game is always the important one and that’s what we are looking forward to and working hard for in training.”