Celtic midfielder Matt O'Riley: I still think there's a chance for me but I can't let prospect of World Cup affect me

The past ten months have been a whirlwind for young Celtic midfielder Matt O’Riley.

Matt O'Riley has started Celtic's last eight matches.
Matt O'Riley has started Celtic's last eight matches.

Leaving MK Dons in the third tier of English football in January to join the Glasgow giants, 21-year-old O’Riley has since landed a league championship, played in the Champions League, represented one of the best countries in Europe at under-21 level and become one of the key members of the current Celtic team.

Such a rapid ascent can be tough to deal with for a young football. So much has come to the O’Riley in a short space of time and the next few months could bring more for the former Fulham graduate. He has slotted seamlessly in a deeper midfield role in the absence of injured captain Callum McGregor. He is adding strings to his bow constantly. is on the radar of numerous clubs south of the border and he is in the provisional World Cup squad of 55 players for Denmark.

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With Qatar 2022 less than a month away, O’Riley is trying not to look to far ahead. He says doing so affects him. “I haven’t heard much,” he admits of contact from the national team. “I still think there is a chance for me but I am not thinking about it too much. I was before and I don’t think that helped. Focussing on what I am doing here game by game takes a little bit of pressure off that and I think the rest will take care of itself. Whatever happens, happens."

The demands on O’Riley right now are big. Part of a squad that manager Ange Postecoglou rotates constantly, the midfielder is anomaly in that regard. He’s started the team’s last eight matches across three different competitions, with his boss leaning on him heavily without McGregor. “I am in good shape physically,” he says. “It is probably the best I have felt in general. I spoke to Cal since he has been injured, the first game I asked him for tips, where I need to be and stuff like that because he has done it for a long time so having someone like him to speak to and really get up to speed quickly has helped me.”

O’Riley does not feel extra pressure filling McGregor’s shoes. “I don’t really look at it like that,” he continues. “It is another position and another position in which I can help the team. I feel more than comfortable with being able to do that. Regardless of who play, I think we have got enough quality through our midfield. There is enough depth there. I am happy with how I am contribution at the moment.”

There was some sadness in O’Riley’s voice as he digested Celtic’s last match, a 1-1 draw at home to Shakhtar Donetsk that will end their aspirations of playing European football after Christmas. There is one more match to come – the small matter of Wednesday’s trip to the Bernabeu to face Champions League holders Real Madrid. It is a dead rubber for Celtic, a chance to soak up some more continental experience. But before that, they must head to Livingston on Sunday lunchtime for what is likely to be a tricky encounter with Livingston.

“Yeah that would be cool,” responds O’Riley on the prospect of playing at a stadium he’s only visited once as kid on tour. “But first the Tony Macaroni on Sunday ... need to focus on that. It is such a contrast but it is not an easy game. It is astro and 11 men behind the ball probably, a different sort of challenge but one we are going to have to be ready for.

“It is tricky. Two completely different types of opposition and different levels. However, Livingston is just as important because we need to win that game in order to be back in the Champions League next year as well so in that sense it makes me hungry to want to win that game.”