CELTIC’S smooth midfielder Matt O’Riley has identified his most severe critic – HIMSELF!

The London-born former Danish Under-21 international hit the ground running in his Hoops career when he made an eye-catching debut in a 2-1 win against Sunday’s opponents Hearts at Tynecastle only three days after his arrival.

O’Riley, largely unknown to Hoops fans, joined the Parkhead club in a surprise £1.5million switch from English third-tier side MK Dons and was pitched straight in against the Edinburgh outfit on a must-win occasion on January 26 last year.

JUST CAPITAL…debut Bhoy Matt O’Riley applauds the Celtic fans after his first appearance against Hearts at Tynecastle on January 26 2022 as the visitors triumph 2-1 on their way to a momentous title triumph.

The classy performer strolled through his first appearance as strikes from Reo Hatate and Giorgos Giakoumakis gave the visitors a hard-fought three points as they continued their chase to catch up on the Ibrox pacesetters who were in pole position.

Ange Postecoglou’s men went top of the Premiership two games later when they thumped Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side 3-0 in the east end of Glasgow with Hatate, who arrived just three weeks before O’Riley, firing in a double and Liel Abada adding a third just before the interval.

However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the level-headed Englishman who, by his own admission, saw his form dip in this campaign.

O’Riley observed: “I’m in a good place mentally and usually when that’s the case, the rest takes care of itself. I was at a good level last week, but I think I can still play better.

”It comes more from pressure in my own head than externally. As much as external noise has some effect, the only pressure I have comes from the standards I set myself every day.

DERBY DELIGHT…Matt O’Riley dances with joy following Celtic’s crucial 3-0 win over their Ibrox opponents at Parkhead on February 2 2022.

“Previously in the season, and last season, I set quite a high bar, so maintaining that level and looking to improve on it was always going to be tough. I’m still pretty young, as well, so I’ve got a lot still to learn on the way.

“All these experiences, good and bad, should put me in a good place.”

O’Riley, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I’m getting better at trying not to be so hard on myself. There have been times in the past when I’ve not had as good a game as I wanted to – and then there are little things you carry with you.

“I don’t think that’s a good approach to have, because you end up taking them into training. That’s something I’ve improved on a lot and I think that’s why you now see me in a better place on the pitch.

“If you care so much about what you do, it puts extra weight on your shoulders. But that’s not to say I don’t love it. Even all these bad times, I’m going to look back on them with enjoyment because they taught me so much about myself and about football in general.

“My mindset is that I just want to be as good a footballer as I can be. I’m not someone who has ever followed the pay cheques and that’s reflected in past decisions in my career.

THREE CHEERS…Matt O’Riley, Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor celebrate their League Cup victory at Hampden in February.

“I always try to do what’s best for my career, whether that’s taking a step down, eating the right food, loads of little things off the pitch that don’t get seen.

“I always make every decision to be a better footballer. Where that takes me, who knows, but naturally I’d like to try to play at the very highest level.”

O’Riley, who was outstanding in the 1-0 Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Michael Beale’s Ibrox outfit at the weekend, commented: “I think I’ve played pretty well in the last four or five games.

“People will always have something to say and I’m not going to say that I didn’t have a slight rough patch around the new year, for various reasons.

“There is stuff off the pitch that might not always be obvious to the naked eye and probably gets overlooked because you’re seen as a footballer instead of as a person.”

Now O’Riley is hoping to play his role in Celtic’s second successive championship triumph as he returns to where it all kicked off 66 games ago and added: “It was a fun night.

“It was three days after I signed, so I was kind of thrown straight in, but it was probably the best place to be thrown straight in because it was good preparation for Scottish football.

“It all happened very quickly and I didn’t have any time to think about it. I just did it.

”It was a hostile atmosphere. Their fans probably aren’t too fond of us, naturally, but it’s those kind of games we enjoy most as players.”

*Celtic FC Foundation is delighted to be teaming up with Parkinson’s UK and Glasgow Life to help deliver free weekly walking football sessions in Glasgow. Beginning at Glasgow Life’s Toryglen Regional Football Centre, the project will be free for people with Parkinson’s. For more information on this project, please contact cfcfoundation@celticfc.co.uk

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