Bright O'Dea is in the zone for Old Firm debut

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ANYONE trying to get hold of Darren O'Dea for the past 36 hours would have had their work cut out. While other players seem to have a mobile phone stitched to their ear, the Celtic youngster hates the distraction in the build up to a match.

Having started last week's victory over Dunfermline, the 19-year-old is in the reckoning for his Old Firm debut this afternoon and while there are no guarantees, he wasn't prepared to deviate from his pre-match ritual.

"I get very focused the day before a game really. I just zone out. I knock off my phone and don't speak to anyone," said the kid from Dublin, who has now featured for the club on Bank of Scotland Premierleague, CIS Cup and Champions League duty. "I'm not really nervous, I'm up for it. I've been in and around the first team now for a while so I need to always expect that my chance will come the next day and be ready for it. I'm delighted it's come sooner rather than later, but if players return from injury and I'm back on the bench I'll just stay patient and keep trying to put myself in the manager's thoughts. You always have to expect that your chance will come sooner rather than later."

The initial chance came four years ago when he impressed with his Home Farm team. "We came over for a pre-season tour and played a few clubs and Celtic were one of them. We actually beat them 2-0 and I scored the two goals, which was obviously a boost. It came from there that I came over on a trial." And signed, side-stepping the attentions of Premiership clubs such as Aston Villa in the process.

September this year saw the big breakthrough into the first team. It was a start against St Mirren in the cup. Against Copenhagen he made his European debut and last Sunday he deputised for the injured Stephen McManus and having dominated the Dunfermline strikers, he then dominated the media coverage. But don't suggest it has been a whirlwind rise to prominence. "I wouldn't say so. This is my fourth year here and although I'm still quite young I've been striving to get into the first team since I arrived at the club. I've had to be patient, but in the past year I've been in the squad, I've sat on the bench. But when a chance comes along you take it. I'm at the stage now where I feel I'm ready to take it but, obviously, the only time you know if you're ready is when you play. I feel the games I've played in, I've contributed to the team and hopefully if I get more games I can keep doing that.

"Football is 90% hard work, but 10% is luck. Obviously Mick [McManus] has been absolutely magnificent since coming into the side last season, but it's about the club; if my chance comes along I won't be thinking about other people's misfortune."

It may have been a long time in coming, according to the lad who talks as he plays, with an assurance which belies his teenage status, but it is still no more than he expected when he signed for the Parkhead club. "When you're a young kid, you think you're going to be the next Wayne Rooney, but you soon realise it's a hell of a lot harder than you think it's going to be to break into a team like Celtic. I don't set my goals, because I believe that anything can happen."

Short-term, getting into the starting line-up and helping Celtic secure victory would suffice. "I don't watch much of Rangers, to be honest, but from what I've seen Dado Prso's a top player. I've played against Kris Boyd and Nacho Novo before in the reserves. They're tough opponents, but I'm confident that I can do a job even though it's a hell of a lot different when you're playing in the first team. I'm aware there's a massive crowd, but I'll just treat it like any other game. It's massive for the club, but if I'm playing I'll just focus on trying to win the game and keep a clean sheet."

Getting hold of him before a match may be difficult but if past evidence is anything to go by the Rangers strikeforce will need to be wary that the Irishman doesn't find it too easy keeping pegs on them.