MATT O’RILEY has revealed he is playing with no fear as he rolls back the years.
The stylish midfielder eased elegantly through Celtic’s 4-1 triumph over Hearts at Tynecastle yesterday where he notched his sixth goal of the campaign, two more than the entirety of last season.
O’Riley has been outstanding since day one of Brendan Rodgers’ second coming and he was near perfect as he helped silence a toxic atmosphere in Gorgie while restoring the champions’ seven-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle.
The 22-year-old Londoner’s eye-catching strike after only four minutes propelled the Hoops to a victory at a ground considered to be a dangerous assignment in the lead-up to the encounter.
SMILES BETTER…Matt O’Riley and Greg Taylor prepare to congratulate Kyogo Furuhashi after the Japanese ace’s strike for the third goal against Hearts.
O’Riley’s goal was executed with exquisite co-ordination as he allowed a dinked pass from Luis Palma to drop over his shoulder before taking it first time on the drop to whip a low drive past the stranded Zander Clark low down to the keeper’s left.
Daizen Maeda doubled the advantage before half-time and, after Reo Hatate had squandered a penalty-kick immediately after the turnaround, Kyogo Furuhashi flashed in No.3.
It was all over before substitute Tomoki Iwata claimed his first Celtic goal with a blistering drive that crashed into the net after thumping down off the underside of the crossbar and then ricocheting high into the rigging.
Reflecting on his own exceptional goal, O’Riley smiled: “It was nice. I just felt comfortable over it. I saw it early, I made the run early and I know that Luis has got that ball in his locker. He’s shown that in the last few games.
“We spoke about that before the game, where to run and attack the space. Then you just make good contact. It helps when you score early at a place like this. It’s quite a hostile atmosphere and it helps silence the crowd.
“From that point on, especially in the first half an hour, we really dominated the game. We were comfortable, I thought. I wouldn’t say I feel more confident than normal, I just feel more open when I’m on the pitch.
“I’m more comfortable trying things and I’m not worried about messing stuff up – and I think that is being reflected at the moment.”
O’Riley is now the team’s leading marksman with one more league strike than the prolific Kyogo and, quizzed if he had ever been a goal machine before, he replied: “When I was younger, yeah.
“Coming through the Fulham academy, I used to score quite a lot of goals. So, it was something that I always knew and was aware of that I was able to do.
“I don’t know what my best tally is. When I was 13 or 14, I probably scored about 30 odd goals, but I’m not sure it’s the same as men’s football! That would be nice!
“No, I haven’t set any targets in terms of numbers, I’m not really thinking about numbers at all at the moment, if I’m being honest.
“I actually forget quite often when people ask me, which I think is a good sign as I’m solely focused on improving my all-round game. I think goals just come as part of that.”
Speaking about going head to head with the Japanese international for the mantle of top scorer, O’Riley, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “We haven’t even joked about it once! He’s too down to earth and I’m probably not the kind of guy who would nibble on it, either.
“We’ve got a very good relationship, I think that shows on the pitch, as well. Neither of us would try to be selfish and try to score ourselves, it’s all about what is the best decision for the team in that moment. I think that is reflected in the way we play.”
O’Riley and partners Callum McGregor and Hatate took command of the middle of the park right from the off in Edinburgh and the Danish international also paid tribute to the contributions to the side’s latest success to substitutes Iwata and Paulo Bernardo.
He added: “Tommo’s goal was pretty amazing for a holding midfielder and I thought Paolo was really good when he came on.
“We’ve got a really good squad depth. There are six or seven boys who aren’t even on the bench and they are top players, so that shows the strength of the squad,
“That’s going to be helpful throughout a long, hard season.”
The focus now switches to the Champions League and the visit of Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night in a must-win confrontation for the Hoops following two previous defeats to Feyenoord and Lazio in Group E.
It’s a meeting festooned with all sorts of possibilities, but one thing is certain – O’Riley will have no fear as he lines up against the crack Spaniards.