O'Riley happy with Celtic season after strengthening 'body and mind'

The midfielder says Celtic are in a good place as they chase a double.

Celtic midfielder Matt O’Riley believes that “strengthening body and mind” has been key to a successful season as he and his team aim to deliver on their trophy ambitions.

The Parkhead club are three points ahead in the title race with four games to go and have booked a place in the Scottish Cup final against Rangers.

O’Riley’s contributions to his side have seen him named on the shortlist for PFA Player of the Year and he was delighted to have his qualities recognised by his fellow professionals.

Those talents also saw him linked with a move away from Celtic in January and he admits that being at the centre of the speculation was one of the things he has had to learn to deal with over a long season. The 23-year-old has thrived though, and his 13 goals and 11 assists have been vital to Celtic’s Premiership hopes.

“It’s been eventful and really fun,” O’Riley said. “I’ve learned a lot. When you’re doing well then there’s more noise around you so I’ve had to manage things on and off the pitch and I’ve grown a lot as a person.

“A few things have changed. Obviously I’m playing 90 minutes and a lot of my goals have come after the 70 minute mark. If I wasn’t on the pitch at that time then I wouldn’t be able to do that.

“The other thing is probably the mental aspect. I’m in a much better place in body and mind in general. It’s taken a lot of work but it’s paid off and something I continually try to do because I think if you’re happy off the pitch then on the pitch that naturally transfers.”

On dealing with transfer rumours, he said: “It was tough at first because it was something new but I’m sure if something like that happens in the future then I’ll be able to manage it better.

“I don’t think I managed it badly but just when something like that happens it’s naturally at the back of your mind. First few games were tough but then I addressed it and did some work off the pitch with a friend that I speak with, and then we got back on track.”

He’s also been under the spotlight as a midfield constant while Reo Hatate and Callum McGregor have both had spells on the sideline through injury but O’Riley said he didn’t feel he had to take on anything extra but just continue to focus on his own game.

“It’s another thing I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “I don’t think I need to put any pressure on yourself and all it takes is one thought to do that.

“I just try to really manage it and we’ve got so many good players it’s not like it’s on my shoulders at all.

“That means I don’t need to put that responsibility on myself, just the responsibility to help my team and that’s what I do.”

Now the focus is on the four remaining league games and that Hampden final. O’Riley says the team are in a good place and drawing on the experience of those who have been over the course before.

He said: “I think there’s a lot of trust in everybody and we’ve got people like James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Joe Hart who have been round the block and know what is required in these moments.

“And of course we’ve got a manager who’s been here before so when you put that together we’re in a pretty good place.”

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