He may have collected his first major winners’ medal as a Celtic player last May but Callum McGregor’s joy at the achievement was tinged with more than a little frustration.
The midfielder played his part in Celtic’s Scottish Premiership title victory, making 20 appearances, but was a mere bystander at the business end of the campaign as he dropped out of Ronny Deila’s first-team squad.
McGregor has forced his way back in this season, becoming a regular starter in recent months as Celtic look to hold off Aberdeen’s challenge and claim a fifth consecutive league crown.
Three goals in his last five Premiership appearances have underlined McGregor’s revitalised form and the 22-year-old is determined to remain at the heart of the action this time when the title race reaches its conclusion.
“Last season, I played quite a few games at the start,” said McGregor. “But I wasn’t in the team from about February onwards, I fell out of the plans and it was hard to watch the boys in the run-in.
“That’s the time of year you want to be involved, so hopefully this time around that can be me. I’ve made a decent contribution in the last couple of months. I just want to continue doing that. There are a few big games coming up, so to be involved in them will be great.
“I was always confident I could get back into the first team. I knew I had to work hard every day and show the manager what I could do. Me and the manager have a great relationship, so I knew I could get back in eventually.”
McGregor has netted six goals in total this season and is conscious of Deila’s desire for his midfielders to up their scoring ratio and make Celtic less dependent on prolific striker Leigh Griffiths, without whose current 35-goal tally their prospects of success this season would be far less likely.
“If a Celtic midfield player can get 10 goals a season, then you make yourself a good asset,” added McGregor.
“It should be part of most attacking midfielders’ games that they do chip in with a few goals. Leigh has been on fire this season but the other boys need to do their bit and chip in with a few more.
“When I was growing up, I looked at players like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard on TV and tried to mould my game on attacking midfielders like them. You are just as well aiming high.
“They scored some big goals, so you try to emulate that when you play. It’s goals that mark you out as a midfielder. If you can score 10 or more in a season, then you are an asset to your team. Goals change games and goals win games.
“You can have all the great play in the world, but it’s what you do in and around the penalty box that ultimately counts.
“So I’m definitely trying to get to 10 goals before the end of the season. If I can get to double figures, that could be important for the title race. That’s my aim and hopefully that can help the boys get a few more points in the run-in.
“We’ve got loads of talent in the squad and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request for the midfield boys to chip in with more goals. It’s definitely something we should be looking at.”
McGregor was one of the few members of Celtic’s first- team squad not involved in international business over the past week. He took advantage of a few days off to have a warm-weather break in Dubai instead.
“I would rather have been on international duty, of course, but it wasn’t to be this time around,” he said.
“So it was good to have a few days off, recharge the batteries and come back ready to go for the title run-in. I had a couple of days in Dubai and just caught a bit of sunshine.”
McGregor is now relishing a crucial period for Celtic which sees them face three Premiership fixtures in eight days – at home to Hearts on Saturday, at Dundee next Tuesday night and then at Motherwell the following Saturday – before the Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers at Hampden on 17 April.
“If we can go and win those three in the league, it would give us good confidence going into the Rangers game,” he said.
“As far as everyone at the club is concerned, we’re just looking at the next game on Saturday then the ones after that. All the Rangers stuff will take care of itself when it comes around. But I missed the last one against Rangers in the League Cup semi-final last season, so personally I want to be involved this time.”
l Callum McGregor was speaking at a Show Racism the Red Card event at Celtic Park with pupils from St Denis’ Primary, St Michael’s Primary and Thorntree Primary schools.