THIS time last year, it’s a fair bet that a huge percentage of the Celtic support had never heard of the name Matt O’Riley.
The midfielder was preparing himself for MK Dons’ opening third-tier game in December – a meeting with Plymouth Argyle that ended in a 1-1 stalemate in front of 7,566 fans.
Twelve months down the line and the smooth left-footed midfielder has won a Premiership title medal, made his international debut for the Danish Under-21s, just missed out on his adopted nation’s World Cup Finals squad and has played against reigning European champions Real Madrid at a packed Parkhead and in the iconic Bernabeu.
SPANISH SIGHS…Matt O’Riley and Sead Haksabanovic congratulate Filipe Jota after his free-kick spectacular against Real Madrid for Celtic’s consolation strike in the Bernabeu.
It has been an extraordinary change in fortunes for the one-time Fulham propsect who has seen his career – and his life – turned upside down since his bargain £1.5million arrival in Glasgow on January 21 after agreeing a four-and-a-half year deal.
O’Riley, who celebrated his 22nd birthday last week, reflected on the recent trip to Australia and said: “Every new experience is an eye-opener.
“Even just our support for the Everton game was crazy.
“Compared to Everton, we were a lot louder. We showed that we have very dedicated fans. I spoke to a few Australian fans and they said they get up at three every morning to watch all of our games.
“That just shows how big our club is.”
Asked if it had been a mentally-draining experience, O’Riley replied: “Definitely – and even with the travel involved in playing in the Champions League. Personally, that was something new. You’ve just got to adjust to it, that’s how football works.
“I think we dealt with it well. We’ve managed games that were tough and we’ve come back from difficult positions. Playing against Everton was another good test for us.
SMILES BETTER…Matt O’Riley revels in Celtic’s nine-goal romp against Dundee United at Tannadice in August.
“I know it was a friendly, but we still wanted to win the game because there are so many fans supporting us.
“I’ve got my head around it all now. In the first game in the Champions League, I was probably a little nervous, but as I got more experience it was positive.
“Then there’s also the environment, generally, with Celtic. It’s massive. It affects your general well-being.
“I feel comfortable in my environment now and I’m enjoying it. I’m looking forward to going again after the break, for sure.
”I wouldn’t say I need one [a rest], but I think it will still be beneficial. We’ve had so many games in such a short period.
“I’ve also played quite a lot. So, to be able to shut down the system and completely rest for a week or so will be good.
“In the summer, I got about two weeks off and I really felt that just one week of switching off and relaxing your body can help you come back really flying. So, that will be my aim.”
LIFT-OFF…Matt O’Riley and Liel Abada celebrate the Israeli winger’s hat-trick against Dundee United.
Is there a chance of the champions slacking off after the World Cup interlude when they are scheduled to restart against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Saturday December 17?
O’Riley, speaking to The Herald, answered: “No chance, it’s not going to happen.
“I think the consistency and mentality have to be the same every game, so when you transition into a league game, you’re going to keep that form and momentum.”
The stylish performer added: “We are aware it’s a good position to be in. We’re aware of the table, but at the same time, we’re not really looking at it.
“We’re just focusing on our own stuff every day. That sounds like a boring answer, I know. But it’s true.
“There’s a process to it and if we keep following that, then I’m sure we will be in a good place.”