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Dublin: 6°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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Ireland youngster Luca Connell impresses as Celtic prepare for 10-in-a-row tilt

‘I’m sure the club have a good plan for him. He’s got plenty of talent, that’s for sure.’

Celtic's Luca Connell (file pic).
Celtic's Luca Connell (file pic).
Image: Ian Rutherford

LUCA CONNELL BOOSTED his prospects of playing a part in Celtic’s bid for a 10th consecutive Scottish Premiership title with an impressive display as Neil Lennon’s side rounded off their preparations for the new season.

Yesterday’s pre-season friendly against Hibernian at Parkhead was Celtic’s final game ahead of their 2020/21 opener at home to Hamilton Academical on Sunday.

Connell was heavily involved after being brought on as a half-time substitute in a game which saw Celtic come from behind to record a 3-1 victory.

Ireland international Daryl Horgan teed up Josh Doig to put Hibs in front, before Karamoko Dembele equalised to leave the sides level at the interval. A brace of late goals from Patryk Klimala sealed the win for the hosts.

Darren O’Dea, who’s now Celtic’s U18 head coach, provided commentary for the broadcast of the game on Celtic TV. The former Republic of Ireland defender was encouraged by what he saw from Connell after the midfielder was introduced from the bench.

“Obviously because of Covid I haven’t seen any of him in pre-season training, but certainly when he came on he impacted the game instantly. I was impressed,” O’Dea said of Connell, who turned 19 in April.

“He looked enthusiastic, he’s got a good personality, he’s brave in possession and he’s got a fantastic left foot. What really impressed me was that he was always looking forward and he can clearly see a pass. He got 45 minutes to make an impression and he used them very well.

“For young players, the opportunities in these pre-season friendlies – without sounding too dramatic – could change your life. Some of these players might not play in the first-team again this season so this could be their one chance, but he certainly took his.”

bolton-wanderers-v-ipwich-town-sky-bet-championship-university-of-bolton-stadium Connell played for Bolton Wanderers in the Championship at 17. Source: Anthony Devlin

After making the breakthrough as a 17-year-old with Bolton Wanderers in the English Championship, Connell joined Celtic on a four-year deal last summer.

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Establishing himself in the first-team in Glasgow was always likely to be a tall order for an inexperienced youngster, but that task was further hindered by a thigh injury that sidelined him for the early stages of the season.

Neil Lennon considered allowing him to follow in the footsteps of fellow Irish underage internationals Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi by going out on loan in January, but Connell ultimately stayed put and continued to excel for the club’s reserve side.

In the latter stages of the 2018/19 season, the Liverpool-born teenager played 12 times in the first-team at Bolton. His performances earned the recognition of Mick McCarthy, who called him up to the Ireland senior squad.

“He was excellent,” McCarthy said after a training camp in Portugal. “He’s got a lovely personality about him – a really pleasant young fella and he stood out in training. I was impressed with him.” 

james-mcclean-matt-doherty-luca-connell-jeff-hendrick-and-seamus-coleman Luca Connell impressed Mick McCarthy during Ireland's training camp in Portugal in May 2019. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Whether it comes at Celtic or elsewhere, Darren O’Dea agrees that a run of competitive senior football at club level this season would considerably aid Connell’s development.

He said: “I would imagine that will be the mindset of the club and certainly of Luca as well. He sampled first-team football at Bolton and he had a couple of injuries to deal with when he came up to Celtic, but he’s obviously got a full pre-season under his belt now.

“He’s absolutely at a stage now where he’ll need progression at some stage in terms of first-team football. To break in at Celtic soon is going to be a big ask for him, not only because of the size of the club, but because two of the players in front of him – Scott Brown and Callum McGregor – are among the club’s most consistent performers.

“If he stays around the first-team or goes out on loan, that remains to be seen, but he’s definitely at a point where he could use first-team football. I’m sure the club have a good plan for him. He’s got plenty of talent, that’s for sure.”

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Paul Dollery

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