MATT O’RILEY insists there was never a doubt that Celtic would win on Sunday to claim a place in the Scottish Cup Final on Saturday June 3.
But the stylish midfielder stresses it is unfair to say the Hampden showpiece against Championship side Inverness Caley Thistle is already a foregone conclusion.
Unless there is a collapse of seismic proportions from Ange Postecoglou’s men, the Hoops will go into the grand finale searching for the club’s eighth history in their glorious history.
O’Riley played his part in the most recent victory over the Ibrox side with the Parkhead club losing only one of heir past nine encounters against their city rivals.
The 22-year-old playmaker, a £1.5million bargain buy from English thrd-tier MK Dons in January 2022, reflected on events at the national stadium on Sunday and said: “I don’t think there was ever a doubt in our mind that we would win the game.
“Even though they managed to get a few crosses into the box, we still felt very calm on the pitch, although I do think we could have relaxed a little bit more to make it easier for ourselves.
“But it was a Cup game, so the most important thing was to win.”
O’Riley was also involved in the moment his team-mates seized upon a fatal moment of hesitancy from their opponents after it looked as though he had been taken out of play illegally by Nico Raskin.
Referee Don Robertson, though, ignored the challenge. Reports stating he had applied the advantage rule are wrong. The match official simply overlooked the action from the Belgian.
Daizen Maeda was first to react as Raskin stalled and left back Borna Barisic, who appeared to be waiting for the referee to blow for a foul, stood still. The Japanese raider whipped in a brilliant cross and Filipe Jota applied the finishing touch with a close-range header beyond the exposed Allan McGrgeor.
The former Danish Under-21 international stated: “We wouldn’t usually cross from that kind of area, we would usually try to work it a bit closer, but Daizen saw the opportunity and it was a great ball for the goal.’
O’Riley, however, was adamant that the referee should have blown for a free-kick and stated: “It was definitely a foul. I was appealing for it and the ref told me it probably was a foul when I walked past him, but he said: ‘If I’d given the foul then you guys wouldn’t have scored’.
“And I was like: ‘Yeah, fair enough!’”
Now all eyes are on Hampden to bring down the curtain on a memorable crusade with their Highland opponents already written off as no-hopers in many quarters.
O’Riley, speaking to The Scotsman, continued: “That’s not fair. Inverness can get promoted, as well, and the bottom of the top league and the top of the second league are probably very similar.
“We have shown before that we haven’t always necessarily won against teams at the bottom, so I don’t think it is fair to get into the frame of mind thinking that we have already won that game.
“It is a Cup Final and Inverness are going to be up for it so we will need to be, as well.
“Everyone expected us to win [against Motherwell]and we had good chances, but couldn’t score. That could happen in the Cup Final, as well. We will do our best, but Inverness still have a chance.
“A draw is a loss, isn’t it? That was a big thing for me when I came here. At previous clubs you could go away to a team and get a draw and you would pat yourselves on the back, but here, it doesn’t matter if you are at home or away to anyone, you are expected to win.
“I’ve really enjoyed that challenge of having to win every game and being very competitive.”
O’Riley is now on the brink of a second successive Premiership medal and a win against Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday will make certain the flag flies again in the east end of Glasgow, but he added: “It would be crazy if I allowed myself to get carried away.
“But a lot of it is still new to me. I’m still pretty young, so I have a lot to learn, but each experience helps me to learn new things and the main thing I have learned is to stay in the moment as much as possible and not get carried away with whatever, even on the pitch.
“If you are thinking too far ahead then you are probably not in the right frame of mind. It is always about staying grounded and having a steady frame of mind.
“If you do that then, usually, the rest takes care of itself.”