IF YOU HAVE enough energy remaining, dear reader, after all that applauding and smiling yesterday, may I ask you to put your hands together one more time for Riley McGree?

Riley Who? Yes, I suppose that is a reasonable query. Some of you may recall an Australian midfielder who was on Ange Postecoglou’s shopping list during the January 2022 transfer window.

Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi had already arrived after a triple raid on the J-League and Neil Lennon’s successor, just seven months into the job, had his eyes on a player he had introduced to international football during his four years as Socceroos chief.

McGree was a new name to a fair percentage of the Celtic support, including your humble scribe.

But if Big Ange thought the lad could do a job for his rejevenated Hoops team that was good enough for us.

NO DEAL…Riley McGree blanked Ange Postecoglou.

The midfielder, then 23, had just completed a 14-month loan spell at Birmingham City from MLS club FC Charlotte – where Liel Abada now struts his stuff – and was in the manager’s sights. A fee of £3million had been mentioned and that was not going to be a stumbling block.

All indications were that McGree was on his way to the east end of Glasgow to join the Ange Revolution. Unexpectedly, though, the player performed a u-turn, knocked back the Greek-Australian and pitched up at second-tier Middlesbrough.

Postecoglou shrugged with the news of the middle-of-the-park operator’s change of heart and change of direction.

The straight-shooter told us: “It’s an indication for me that this isn’t the right place for him. It works both ways as I only want players who want to be here.

“I won’t try and convince any player to come and sign for this football club. I won’t.

“If they can’t see the opportunities that exist here then that’s part of the deal for me. The ones we have signed all wanted to come here.

“It’s an easy decision. Everyone has their own free will to decide what’s best for them. But I’m not going to sell this club to anyone on its virtues.

“If they can’t understand that in the first place they’re probably not worth talking to from my perspective.”

Asked if McGree’s decision was purely down to cash incentives, Postecoglou, as reported in CQN at the time, answered: “I don’t know, mate. To be honest, I don’t care.

“It’s no big issue for me. There are plenty of footballers who would love to come to this club.

“They are the ones I’m looking for.”

ROARING SUCCESS…Matt O’Riley has a lot to shout about after a phenomenal season.

A week after that revelation, Postecoglou signed a virtual unknown from the English third-tier and didn’t hesitate in catapulting the youngster into his first team.

Matt O’Riley was the midfielder brought into the Ange jigsaw and the £1.5million recruit from MK Dons has proved to be a more than adequate replacement for McGree who is still with a Boro team that completed the Championship in eighth place, 28 points adrift of the league winners Leicester City.

The elegant London-born Danish international playmaker has been an unqualified success since his arrival and his form this season has been nothing short of sensational.

Forget the fact he has scored 19 goals – a 15-strike upgrade on last term’s total – and been involved in umpteen assists.

O’Riley has been majestic from day one of Brendan Rodgers’ second coming and has been the outstanding performer in the country.

Lawrence Shankland won the Premiership Player of the Year award and the Hearts frontman certainly deserves to take a bow after collecting 31 goals. But if anyone thinks the Scotland striker is superior to the Celt then you may also reckon I am in with a chance of becoming the next heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Am I alone in the belief Joe Hart was not the only Celtic player saying his league farewell to the Celtic fans yesterday?

Alas, I have the notion our easy-on-the-eye and entertaining ball artiste may be heading for pastures new in the summer.

It is to his eternal credit that he did not kick his toys out of the pram and send his dummy in the direction of the solar system when any chance of a move to Atletico Madrid in January was blocked by the Parkhead hierarchy.

From the English third tier to La Liga – via the Premiership – in the space of a mere two years must surely have been a compelling and intriguing contemplation for the 23-year-old orchestrator.

When the transfer deadline came and went, O’Riley remained a pivotal member of Brendan Rodgers’ line-up and got on with the job.

SAINTS AND WINNERS…Matt O’Riley celebrates his goal in Celtic’s 3-2 victory over St Mirren.

Displaying the same skills while sidestepping an opponent on the field, the player avoided a direct answer to a question posed by a Sky Sports reporter in the aftermath of the 3-2 triumph over St Mirren at Parkhead yesterday.

Asked about the prospect of leaving, O’Riley smiled and responded: “That’s a tough question. It would be very difficult. I have said before, the club means a lot to me now.

“Right from day one I kind of fell in love with the club because the fans are so crazy and passionate. It is just a proper fanbase. One more game to focus on and then take it from there.”

Read into those words what you will, my friends.

We may witness Matt O’Riley’s farewell performance in the green-and-white hoops in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden on Saturday.

He’s a class act and it somehow seems to be a fitting platform to say his goodbyes to the “crazy and passionate” fans who fell in love with him.

We can all be eternally thankful Riley McGree chose Middlesbrough.


Click Here for Comments >

About Author