Scott McDonald: Old Firm clash will focus Celtic minds

Kris Boyd and Scott McDonald promote the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final between Rangers and Celtic. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Kris Boyd and Scott McDonald promote the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final between Rangers and Celtic. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
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Motherwell striker Scott McDonald admits it took him several years to recover from his addiction to the adrenalin rush which accompanied Old Firm matches.

Indeed, after then Celtic manager Tony Mowbray abruptly pulled the plug on his Parkhead career in 2010, he revealed that his withdrawal symptoms became so pronounced that he could not bring himself to follow 
the action on television, so envious had he become of the players taking part.

He has come through the other side now, though, and is looking forward to witnessing the Premiership champions taking on the Championship leaders in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden next month.

“I do miss them, of course you do,” he confessed. “I’m okay with it now but, when I first left to join Middlesbrough, I couldn’t actually watch the Old Firm games because I still wanted to be playing in them.

“I was desperate to be out there. I felt that my time at the club was cut short and that was hard to take. But, irrespective of that, they are such special games and those days when you score goals, especially the winning goal, are held as the biggest and best days of my career.

“When you win it’s euphoria. It’s a feeling you’ve never felt before in your life and you never do again. Fans get it because they are so passionate about their team but it makes you feel the same as a player.

“I think it also meant so much to me because I was educated as a youngster about it. It wasn’t like I was just this young Aussie guy turning up and playing for one side – I knew all about it from growing up with my mum supporting one and my dad supporting the other.

“There was always that rivalry within my household, it was always there and I watched all the games growing up.

“When you are winning it means a lot so to put one over your rivals – especially on an occasion like this, when there’s a cup final on the line – it’s such a massive occasion. Even more so when this is the only derby this season and it will be a while before the next one.”

There are many pundits and punters who argue that Celtic manager Ronny Deila, under fire from all directions following desperately disappointing displays at home and abroad this season, would have done well to avoid Mark Warburton’s men in Sunday’s draw.

McDonald, though, cannot understand why anyone at the club would not want to eliminate Rangers at this stage of the competition, just as they did in the League Cup last year.

“Maybe he wouldn’t have wanted this draw but there’s no better game to test himself or his players in,” he said. “These are the games you thrive on. Celtic’s players will have missed these occasions and they have plenty still there with experience of the fixture.

“They’ll be desperate to play 
in them again and they’ll be looking forward to Rangers coming up. They will also feel that they’re favourites and they’ll be confident. It gives the manager the chance to be a hero again. Things change very quickly in football and people forget very quickly, too.

“This game can change opinions but I think Ronny and his players will be concentrating on trying to get their league form right first – and this tie will help in terms of motivating the players and making sure that their heads are right.

“Could a win save his job? You’d need to ask Peter 
Lawwell and the board that question.”

McDonald, though, is convinced that the prospect of facing Rangers at the national stadium will concentrate Celtic minds and provide a sharpness and focus which has too often been missing in recent months.

“Based on recent performances, Rangers might be going into this tie in a more positive frame of mind,” he said. “They’ve been very good while Celtic have struggled in their last few games.

“They beat Morton comfortably, of course, but you’d expect them to do that. However, if you’re asking who wants this game more then I would say it’s probably Celtic.

“I believe they need it more in order to get their season back on track and get their heads right again. This game speaks for itself; they don’t need to motivate themselves now.

“The matches in the next six weeks are key for them now and I think having this tie will give them that edge. I fully expect to see an improved Celtic during that period.”

l Scott McDonald was speaking at a William Hill event. William Hill is the proud 
sponsor of the Scottish Cup.