Here was a centre-back born only in 2003, and yet here was the urgent need to press him into first-team action to plug the gap created by the reason-deserting red card Nir Bitton earned 45 minutes into curtain-raising Champions League tie at home to FC Midtjylland. “I can remember 2003 very clearly,” said Postecoglou of Murray’s tender years that were not betrayed in the mature display he delivered for the 1-1 draw that has set Celtic up for the return leg of the second round qualifier in Denmark on Wednesday.
The club’s support also remember 2003 vividly, with Martin O‘Neill’s side then reaching the UEFA Cup final. To place Murray’s time on this earth in full context, he was born just over a month after they lost to Porto in Celtic’s first appearance in a European final for 33 years.
With a calmness and imposing physique – the youngster is just shy of 6ft 4ins – Postecoglou didn’t consider the decision to turn to Murray as high risk. Even when the defender, who earlier this year signed a new deal to tie him to the club till at least 2024, had only simply made the bench twice before – both these occasions in the closing weeks of last season under interim manager John Kennedy. He, and fellow former centre-backs Darren O’Dea and Stephen McManus in the backroom staff, then recognised the footballing growth of a teenager first scouted as six-years-old. The Celtic manager patently has also bought into that, and now has no obvious alternative for the Midtjylland decider.
“You know how young he is and he is not just coming on the pitch he is facing a formidable opponent and with ten men,” said the Greek-Australian. “But you know what, my gut instinct told me he wouldn't be fazed by it. I watched him in training and he is a young kid, not just with football potential but personality and character that belies his age. I was quite happy to trust him out there and it was an important stage, we were down to 10 men and we had to work very hard.”
He buckled down in partnering ‘veteran’ Stephen Welsh, himself only 21 and with a mere 20 senior starts to his name. Murray’s ability to handle a difficult predicament didn’t surprise the older head.
“Dane was fantastic, both on the ball and defensively… he made me feel old!” said Welsh. “It was just another game for me. When Nir went off I had confidence in Dane coming in because he’s trained with us since last season. I felt comfortable with him because he’s so good, for such a young player. He’s got a bright future and he’ll be a big player for us. The manager has faith in him and as a young player that’s all you need. Someone to put trust in you to go and play with freedom. If Dane is selected next week then I’ve got massive confidence he can go there and put a performance in.”