Celtic's Matt O'Riley on his football expert gran, Kasper Schmeichel commendations and power of meditation

Matt O'Riley in action on his Denmark debut during the 2-0 defeat to Northern Ireland. (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)Matt O'Riley in action on his Denmark debut during the 2-0 defeat to Northern Ireland. (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)
Matt O'Riley in action on his Denmark debut during the 2-0 defeat to Northern Ireland. (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)
A scouting report was provided to the Danish public of what they could expect from Matt O’Riley prior to the Celtic midfielder debuting with the senior Denmark national team this week.

Not from your typical source, mind. Instead, in an interview with Bold.dk it was O’Riley’s 85-year-old gran Lis who gave the lowdown on his range of defence-splitting passes and commitment to a nation deeply imbedded in him through his Danish mother - and gran’s daughter - Gittee. As evidenced in the midfielder belting out the national anthem before his 60-minute run-out in the 2-0 defeat to Northern Ireland on Tuesday. A breakthrough moment that gave way to the fluent Danish speaker being honoured by the country’s captain Kasper Schmeichel on the squad’s return to their hotel and, in “nerve-wracking” fashion, having to stand in front of all and respond in kind. At such a late hour, it then gave way to his team-mates wishing him happy birthday, O’Riley turning 23 on Wednesday. A “weird night”, all in all, he concedes. “The Danish version of Happy Birthday is about four times as long”...,” he said. But Schmeichel’s endorsement of his on-field efforts - “he said some nice things about my time with the camp and how I did in the game, and it meant a lot he said that in front of everyone” - resulted in him having cause to consider he had perhaps initially been too down on himself over feeling he had not shown his best on a new stage.

O’Riley ought to have reserved all judgements until he had been handed his gran’s verdict. A woman who isn’t just a dedicated follower of his career but has developed shrewd understanding of the game as a result, he would venture. "She is pretty full on and she watches every game as well as the Celtic podcasts,” he said. “She probably knows more about football than a lot of people, to be fair to her. She's watched me since I was about eight-years-old at Fulham, and before she moved back to Denmark. She's been around the football environment for a long time. It's good that she's able to access all of the games on television back in Denmark, so she really enjoys that aspect of being able to watch her grandson on a regular basis.”

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She will no doubt delight in the fact that her grandson’s career seems to be on an ever-steeper incline. O’Riley hopes his elevation to full international will have put himself “in the mix” for a place in Denmark’s squad for next summer’s Euro 2024 finals. Meanwhile, rarely a day passes, where he is not said to be in the mix for joining any number of English Premier League clubs. It can be forgotten that only in January of last year he was in the third tier of English football, a £1.5m deal then taking him to Celtic from MK Dons. He can point to two separate influences as being key to him, first off, being able to prosper under the professional demands at the Glasgow club and, this season, ensuring he has been in the head space to allow him to move his game on to another level. A six-goal haul having seen him already eclipse his scoring returns for the whole of last season.

On the former, O’Riley doesn’t downplay the importance of family - his parents upping sticks and moving to Scotland when he did. The pair, Dom and Gittee, always there for him on the spot, as Lis has been afar. "I've been really lucky with my support system from a really young age, in terms of my mum and dad especially,” he said. “They would drive me all over the place to every game. They have really been there for me and are still coming to all of my games. I don't take that for granted either but it is definitely allowing me to go on the pitch and play a lot more relaxed. There is less pressure on me as they just tell me to go out there and have fun. My grandma in Denmark has been a big part of that too.

“I don’t live together with my parents, thankfully. They live together on the other side of the west end. They come to every game and they enjoy living here as well which is nice. So I have that support system and tight family unit which I think is really helpful. It's definitely a tough club to come and play for and to step into. There are a lot of demands and we sign a lot of young players, so I can understand why it's hard to settle in quickly and hit the ground running. I have that tight support system and it makes it easier as you can lean on someone when you need to.”

Now, it isn’t just his kith and kin O’Riley can lean on. At times last season, he seemed to find the constant, sometimes vicious, public and on-line dissection of his every move as a Celtic player overwhelming as he struggled to score or influence matches as he did in his early months. More recently, though, regular communications with a guiding light in the sub-continent has allowed him to tap into a spiritualism that has impacted positively on how he approaches his football, “a clearer mind” making him “more open” central to the playmaker becoming a creative fulcrum for Brendan Rodgers’ in the Irishman’s second spell.

“For me the big thing that has helped the most is just being in the best frame of mind.” O’Riley said. “That’s something I give a lot of attention to on a daily basis. I meditate a lot, I speak regularly with my friend/life coach who lives in India. I work a lot with him in terms of speaking about things that were maybe kept inside me for a long time. I might not have had the knowledge to understand how to speak about it. That has helped me loads, I feel more confident and open to speak to people in general.” In two languages, no less, but most importantly football’s universal one.



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