Former Celtic defender Jackie McNamara believes that current Hoops youngster Lee O’Connor could be loaned out by the club in January to obtain more regular game-time.
The 19-year-old, who signed from Manchester United on transfer deadline day, made his Republic of Ireland debut in their 3-1 friendly win over New Zealand last night but has yet to be given an opportunity by Neil Lennon at Celtic.
When asked by Football Insider if the teenager might be loaned out, McNamara said: “It’s possible, aye”, adding that the likelihood of him being given first team opportunities at Parkhead “depends on form and injuries, you’ve got a lot of players ahead of him just now. Every game is absolutely crucial, he’s not making a lot of changes now is Neil.”
McNamara added: “I’ve not really seen the boy play but they must rate him over in Ireland, putting him in the squad.”
The ex-Celtic man is correct in saying that O’Connor has a sizeable queue of defenders ahead of him in the Hoops’ squad.
He was given his Ireland debut at right-back last night, a position where Lennon has also brought in Hatem Abd Elhamed, Moritz Bauer and Jeremie Frimpong during the summer.
O’Connor also has experience of playing at centre-back, but Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer are regulars in that position, while Nir Bitton has also been dropped back from midfield to play in that role.
McNamara said that O’Connor’s first team prospects will depend on “form and injuries”, and Celtic currently have a couple of defenders on the treatment table.
Abd Elhamed is set to miss the next six weeks after incurring a groin problem in the Europa League win at Lazio (as per Daily Record), while Jozo Simunovic is a long-term casualty after going for surgery on a knee injury earlier this season (as per The Telegraph).
If Celtic are struck by further defensive injuries over the next few weeks, Lennon could turn to O’Connor, who has demonstrated his ability to play anywhere across the back-line in his fledgeling career.
The 19-year-old provided a sumptuous cross for Ireland’s third goal in their friendly win over New Zealand and his performance was commended by some reporters, with Paul Dowling of the Irish Examiner saying that he had “a solid debut” and “passed the ball well”.
Chris Doyle of the Daily Record added: “O’Connor didn’t look out of place and showed his attacking flair as he whipped in a stunning ball to assist Ireland’s third goal from Callum Robinson”.
One impressive international friendly performance against a team ranked 121st in the world might not alter Lennon’s thinking drastically.
However, the confidence that O’Connor should gain from that, as well as his versatility in defence, could prompt the Celtic boss to keep him in the squad and give him sporadic opportunities, as he has done with Frimpong, instead of being loaned out as McNamara has suggested.
Celtic fans, do you agree with McNamara’s prediction that O’Connor could be loaned out or should Lennon keep him in the squad? Join in the discussion by commenting below!
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