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‘I’M READY TO BATTLE,’ O’CONNELL

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CELTIC’S European debutant Eoghan O’Connell accepts he may not figure in the second leg of the Champions League qualifier against Astana at Parkhead on Wednesday night.

The impressive Irishman put in a composed performance in the 1-1 first leg draw in Kazakhstan in midweek after being pitched into the action by boss Brendan Rodgers.

O’Connell, 20, got the nod to play alongside Efe Ambrose in a new-look central defence after Erik Sviatchenko joined long-term crocks Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata on the sidelines.

Rodgers could now turn to his experienced former Liverpool performer Kolo Toure to face the Kazakhstan champions in the return leg in Glasgow. The Hoops gaffer admitted on Tuesday that the 35-year-old would be registered as a UEFA wildcard to enable him to be named in the squad to face Astana next week.

However, O’Connell, who had spells on loan at Oldham Athletic and Cork City last season, welcomes the extra challenge for a coveted first team place and is ready to battle all the way to remain in the line-up.

He said: “The Astana game is something I have to build on. There is no point in me staying here, playing a game and then taking a step down. I will be looking to push on from this. Of course, I will.

“The manager said to me before the game to take this game and then build on it. That is what I will be looking to do.

”It is obviously the manager’s decision who plays. He picks the team and Kolo Toure is obviously a very experienced player. He has played at the highest level for the last 15 years and shown his qualities.

“I will work hard in training. We have another game against Barcelona on Saturday. I will do the best I can in that and then just take it from there.

“I would rather take my chances at Celtic than go out on loan. It’s a huge club. I have been here since I was 16. My main aim since I arrived is to play and make it here and that’s hopefully what I’m going to do.

”I had a fair idea from the build-up in training during the week that I was going to play. But it was obviously just when the manager called out the team before the game. I was mentally prepared to go and when he named the team I was ready.

“I took confidence from my performance against Leicester City on Saturday. It was obviously a step up. The pitch was very quick and there was a bit of rain. It was slippery. You had to concentrate on your first touch all the time and be very secure. I made a few errors on the ball, but that happens. 

“All the lads are very good to play with. They did egg me on during the game. But at the end of the day, they are trying to do a job themselves. We are a team. Everybody looks after each other.”

O’Connell added: “I think we had started alright. Losing a goal from a set-piece was a bit of a killer. But I think we settled down well. In the second-half, I thought we were a lot better. We created a few chances on the counter, looked a lot more solid and played a lot more with the ball.

“The game in Glasgow next week won’t be easy. We got a good result in Kazakhstan, but they showed what a quality side they are and we will have to play well.

“But there is no reason why we can’t do well and progress further in the competition.”


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