Eoghan O’Connell enjoyed Barcelona ‘test’ at Aviva Stadium
Centre-half sure to be on Martin O’Neill’s radar following his recent performances
A strong first-half performance proved decisive in front of a crowd of 47,900 at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening, when a Barcelona team featuring Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez got the better of Celtic in the International Champions Cup.
While next Wednesday’s crunch Champions League qualifier against Astana is the main priority for Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, this game did present the Antrim native with another opportunity to run the rule over young Irish centre-half Eoghan O’Connell.
The 20-year-old Corkonian (a cousin of rugby legend Paul O’Connell) was coming up against a formidable Barça attacking trio of Messi, Suarez and Munir, and he admitted that he has enjoyed a significant rise through the Celtic ranks in recent weeks.
“It has been a bit of a rise. That is the way football goes, it can all change very quickly. It is going well for me at the moment and I just want to enjoy it while it lasts,” O’Connell said after the game. “To play against Barça – a good level to test yourself against – I really, really enjoyed it.”
O’Connell’s assured performance in last Wednesday’s first leg away to Astana has raised the possibility of a call-up to Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland senior squad later this month. He is remaining focused on his club form for the time being, but does accept that young players getting opportunities for teams like Celtic can only bode well for the future.
‘Believe in yourself’
“It only can. People will be watching out to see how all the young lads coming through are getting on. Hopefully all will go well. You need to believe in yourself, need to be hardworking, and also you need a chance.
“Football is strange. Things can change very quickly. Sometimes a chance comes and when it does, you are going to have to take it.”
Messi and Suarez posed a constant threat for Barça throughout the opening period, but it was excellent approach work from the overlapping Aleix Vidal that set up Turkey international Arda Turan’s superb curled effort on 11 minutes.
This was an early blow for Celtic, but lone striker Leigh Griffiths – who lived off scraps for much of the half – got his side back on level terms just shy of the half-hour mark.
There appeared to be no danger when goalkeeper Jordi Masip gave a short pass to Jose Martinez, but a heavy touch by the Barça defender presented the diminutive Griffiths with a simple finish into an empty net.
Celtic weren’t on level terms for long, though, as a Juan Camara cross from the left flank after 31 minutes was turned into his own net by the unfortunate Efe Ambrose. This was a hammer blow for the well-supported Glaswegians, and with five minutes remaining in the half, they were facing into a two-goal deficit.
The masterful Messi kick-started another incisive attack with an exceptional cross-field delivery, and after receiving a simple pass from Suarez, Munir comfortably claimed a third goal for Barça.
As expected, Celtic opted for wholesale changes at the break, and although Barça only made one alteration to their line-up, Messi made way for Sergi Samper.
Further changes followed from both teams beyond the hour mark, and as a result, the pace of the game started to drop considerably.
With the likes of Suarez, Turan and Jeremy Mathieu taken off, Barça finished the contest with a largely inexperienced side, but even though recent signing Moussa Dembele brought a physical presence to the Celtic frontline, Luis Enrique’s charges eased towards a deserved victory – their first of the tournament.