MATT O’RILEY is brimming with positivity this season – and the rewards are evident as he surges to a new level in his game.
The stylish midfield mastermind has become a first-pick for Brendan Rodgers with his classy and polished performances in the champions’ engine room.
At the age of 23, after arriving as a virtual unknown from English third-tier outfit MK Dons in January 2022, he has earned his first senior cap for his adopted nation Denmark, scored six goals for the Hoops and is progressing at a breathtaking pace.
London-born O’Riley, who cost a bargain £1.5million when he was recruited, admitted: “I feel good. I feel stronger physically and mentally which is progress.
DESPAIR…Matt O’Riley holds his head in his hands as Blair Spittal equalises for Motherwell at Fir Park.
DELIGHT…Matt O’Riley leaves Well keeper Liam Kelly helpless with his stoppage-time winner.
“I try and look at it from the perspective that as long as I’m improving then I’m heading in the right direction. I feel I have improved in a lot of aspects which is positive.
“I work a lot with Gavin Strachan as well and we speak about things I can do better.
“The big thing that’s helped the most is being in the right frame of mind in my head.
“When you feel good in your mind it naturally translates on to the pitch and that’s something I try and draw attention to on a daily basis.”
O’Riley will step up to the plate again tomorrow afternoon when the Hoops host Motherwell and the playmaker has happy recollections of the team’s previous meeting with the Lanarkshire club at Fir Park in late September.
The visitors were leading following a late strike from Luis Palma, the Honduran’s first goal for the club, as the encounter went into stoppage-time.
Unbelievably, Well equalised in the fifth minute of extra time through Blair Spittal with one of their rare attempts at Joe Hart’s goal all day.
It looked as though the contest was heading for a stalemate until the seventh minute of added-on time when O’Riley materialised at the far post to sidefoot a long, diagonal left-wing cross from Greg Taylor past the stranded Liam Kelly.
HOOPY DAZE…Matt O’Riley and Alistair Johnston lead the lap of honour at Fir Park with Gustaf Lagerbielke and Odim Holm joining in.
Reflecting on that memorable confrontation, O’Riley, speaking to Celtic TV, continued: “Yeah that game was fun. But we have a new game on Saturday, so we will try and put that behind us. But if I do look back on that game then it’s with fond memories.
“The goal was needed and you don’t usually expect to win games when you concede so late.
“It was one of them where you think you might get one more chance and we did.
“They were good in the last game we played them. I was impressed by them and they tried to play quite a bit which is a credit to them. It will be a tough game again.
“Every game is tough as some teams want to go man-to-man while others want to go with five at the back, so there’s always a different challenge.”
Alas, O’Riley’s baptism at full international level for the Danes didn’t end well with Northern Ireland ruining his big day with a 2-0 win in Belfast.
COMBAT ZONE…Matt O’Riley challenges Well’s Dan Casey for possession.
The result was inconsequential with Denmark already qualifying for the Euro 24 Championships in Germany next sumer. The debutant added: “Your first cap is always a good moment, although it probably wasn’t our best performance.
“At the same time, you are playing for your country, so it’s a proud moment for me and my family who were at the game. My mum, dad, girlfriend and agent, who is also a friend, were there.
“It was disappointing with the result and I was hard on myself after the game because you naturally are when you lose.
“At the same time, I received some nice feedback from people. It’s four or five months until the next camp, so there’s a lot of football to be played at club level before then.
“Anything can happen in terms of performances, so I will try and do my best.”
So far in this campaign, that has been more than adequate for the champions.