CELTIC BOSS BRENDAN Rodgers says he wouldn’t be afraid to throw Irish youngster Eoghan O’Connell into the deep end ahead of their Champions League third qualifying round tie.
The Scottish Premiership champions meet Astana in Kazakhstan tomorrow afternoon (3pm) as they aim to take one step closer to the group stages.
20-year-old academy graduate O’Connell, the cousin of Irish rugby legend Paul, was named in the starting line-up to play Premier League title winners Leicester City in a friendly last Saturday.
After a loan spell with Cork City was cut short due to injury earlier this year, he is hoping to impress his new club boss and nail down a place in Celtic’s first team.
And the Cork-born defender put in an assured performance, capped by a well-taken goal as the Foxes won on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes.
Celtic are missing Erik Sviatchenko, Jozo Simunovic, Dedryck Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer for the first leg, while new signing Kolo Toure is not year match fit, so he could be in line to feature.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference today, Rodgers praised the Ireland U21 international’s understanding of the game.
“I’ve been particularly impressed by young Eoghan,” Rodgers said.
“He’s a good size, wants to do well and he’s good in the air. He has been around the first team for a few years and had some loan experience.
We were up against tough opponent at the weekend and he coped very well. He has a real in-built brain for football, and he understands the game well.
“I have never any fears of putting young players in.”
Hoops goalkeeper Craig Gordon added: “His last performance was exceptional and he was one of our best players against the champions of England.
“If you can come through that there’s no reason why he can’t step into a Champions League qualifier and do just as well.”
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