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Taking the long route to the Celtic first team . . .

THE list of young, talented players who have fruitlessly banged their heads against Celtic's glass ceiling is a fairly lengthy one.

Callum McGregor scores his first goal for Scotland under-21s on Wednesday. Picture: SNS
Callum McGregor scores his first goal for Scotland under-21s on Wednesday. Picture: SNS

At a time when most other clubs have been forced to turn to their youth academy to replenish diminishing first-team resources, the Scottish champions still enjoy the luxury of being able to buy in ready-made replacements whenever their squad needs freshening up. With a raft of seasoned internationalists blocking their path to the first team, it is barely a surprise that the majority of Celtic's young talent have had to pursue other options when it comes to extending their careers beyond their teenage years.

Callum McGregor is confident, however, that it will turn out differently for him. The 20 year-old has yet to play a competitive match for Neil Lennon's side but a season on loan at Notts County, he hopes, will lead to him joining up with the first team upon his return. It has been a worthwhile exercise for him so far, the midfielder enjoying the rough and tumble of England's Sky Bet League 1 despite County languishing at the foot of the table.

Making more than 30 appearances and scoring 13 goals has helped his burgeoning self-confidence, while a first Scotland under-21 goal against Hungary on Wednesday night was another notch on his belt.

McGregor is young but not naive. He sees his former Celtic under-19 team-mates now scattered to all corners of the country and knows it will be difficult for him to make the breakthrough. "It's tough but I think when you go out on loan and do well there's always that wee hope in your mind that you can come back in and get a chance," he said. "It's just a case of me coming back up and working as hard as I can to try and force my way into their plans.

"It's a massive club and they can go and spend money, so for you to break into the team you've got to always be on the top of your game and show up well in training. It can be done as James Forrest has shown. You can never lose sight of that goal.

"Scott Brown has been especially good with me and so too has Kris Commons. They give me advice. Scott gives me pointers on the game and about talking as well. He is big on communication and knowing what's going on round about you."

While County may be enduring a campaign to forget, it has been the making of McGregor. From playing academy matches in front of a handful of fans, he has tested himself in contests against the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Coventry City and even a cup tie against Liverpool at Anfield.

"When you play so many first-team games - I've played about 35 now - the confidence just grows every time you play," he added. "I think the loan move has worked out even better than I thought it might. It's improved my game massively, in terms of the experience of playing against men. I feel as though I've come on leaps and bounds from the start of the season."

His performances have not gone unnoticed at Celtic, with Lennon and youth coach Steven Frail both keeping tabs on McGregor's form. "I was up at Lennoxtown for a few days in January and had a couple of words with the manager. It's good to hear that the manager is speaking well of me in the press. It gives you that incentive to keep doing well and keep working hard every day."

As well as County's looming relegation scrap, McGregor also has the Scotland under-21s' European Championship qualifer against the Dutch in his thoughts. "I think we can beat Holland. When we meet up in May it's got to be in a positive frame of mind."

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