THE nearest Matt O’Riley got to Champions League action two years ago was to switch on his television.
Now the gifted playmaker, who was signed for a modest £1.5million from English third-tier outfit MK Dons in January 2022, insists Celtic can make an impact among Europe’s elite this season.
London-born O’Riley is looking forward to the glamorous and lucrative group stage ballot on August 31 when Brendan Rodgers’ team will learn their fate among the continent’s creme de la creme.
Last year, the Parkhead men were drawn against reigning European champions Real Madrid plus RB Leipzig and Ukrainian title winners Shakhtar Donetsk.
MOMENT OF CONSOLATION…Matt O’Riley and Sead Haksabanovic congratulate Filipe Jota after his superb free-kick goal in the 5-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish capital.
O’Riley played in both encounters against the Spaniards and suffered a 3-0 defeat in Glasgow and a 5-1 away loss. He admits he will be a better player for the experience, painful though it was.
The 22-year-old former Danish Under-21 international remains positive and admits: “I feel quite lucky to have a mindset where I’ve always dreamed since I was quite young.
“I’m not afraid to dream or say crazy stuff like I really believe we can beat anybody in it. I don’t just say it – I do mean it.
“It is possible. It’s not like it’s in the stars. We are going to be there in the group, so we have the chance to win the games. We will be really going for it.
“I just think: ‘Why not?’. I had a chance to go for it, so why not give it my all? That’s what I tried to do.”
The Champions League quest didn’t quite go according to plan as the Hoops also lost home and away to RB Leipzig and managed two draws against Shakhtar.
Once again, though, O’Riley’s mentality is up beat. The middle-of-the-park operator, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “For me personally, being in Scotland for a year, I’m now in a better place than I was then.
UP FOR THE CUP…Matt O’Riley holds aloft the newly-won Viaplay League Cup after the 2-1 success over Ibrox opposition at Hampden in February.
“Experience can only help whether it is good experience or bad.
“Going into the next crack at the Champions League, I think you are more prepared mentally because you know the level.
“I just hope all the team really believe we can actually do something this year, because I think it’s possible. It’s football, isn’t it?
“We have seen things in the past where teams not expected to win things do win them.
“Leicester City won the Premier League and I think we should go into the Champions League believing that we can win every game.
“Not necessarily expecting to, but we have to give ourselves the best chance of doing well.
“Of course, I understand the argument about budgets from a fans’ perspective and an outside perspective. But I just look at it from a human perspective.
“I look at a player on the other team and, fair enough, they might be in a Real Madrid kit or a Barcelona kit, but they are still a human being like I am.
HIGH FIVES…Matt O’Riley is congratulated by Cameron Carter-Vickers after his goal in the 4-2 opening-day win over Ross County. Kyogo Furuhashi joins in the celebrations.
“And if we play well on the day we can definitely win a football match. We might not be favourites in every game, but it’s still possible.
“Scottish football gets a bit overlooked and the Champions League is the platform to really show that the teams in this league can play good football and really compete.
“Going into this year, I would like to put a marker down and say: ‘Okay, we are actually here for a reason’.”
On the actual ballot, O’Riley added: “I’d take anyone. I want to try and get through the group, no matter who we get. We have to go out there to win.
“I don’t think we should look at the teams and be like: ‘These are big dogs’. We should go in thinking that we are in a group of four and let’s try to get through.”
O’Riley will adopt the same positive philosophy at Rugby Park on Sunday when the holders make their first defence of the Viaplay League Cup against Kilmarnock.
He made a 65th-minute substitute’s appearance for the now-retired Aaron Mooy in February’s trophy triumph when Kyogo Furuhashi fired in a double to dump Michael Beale’s Ibrox side 2-1 at Hampden.
O’Riley is ready to stand up and be counted again in Ayrshire at the weekend – and will no doubt be convinced he can score for a third successive match after his goals Ross County and Aberdeen.