The magic and the mystery of Paddy McCourt hung over Ibrox last night with all the substance and certainty of a question mark.

There was no doubting the reality of the Northern Irishman's contribution to Celtic reserves' 1-0 victory over their Rangers counterparts that clinched the eighth successive title for Parkhead's second string. But everything else about the 25-year-old is conjecture and conditional.

In his short spell at Celtic, McCourt has entranced the chairman, intrigued the manager and led the reserve team coach, Willie McStay, to invoke the name of Lubo Moravcik. But he remains an unknown quantity to those who exclusively watch the first team. McCourt has only made an appearance as an extra on the big stage.

Yesterday, playing in behind lone striker Kevin Cawley, he had his assigned starring role for the reserves. He simply looked on a different technical level to everyone else on the pitch. He breezed past opponents, switched the ball with pace and guile and found the forward pass inside the full-back with an astonishing regularity.

So was this a one-off, Paddy's day in the sun? "He did well today but on other occasions he's been absolutely magnificent," said McStay, pointing out that McCourt had much more to give.

So why is the former Rochdale and Derry City player not in the Celtic first team? There are three reasons. Two of them are Shunsuke Nakamura and Aiden McGeady. The third is McCourt's physical condition. "He's a talent, a real talent," said McStay, "but we have to keep working with Paddy on his fitness levels. As you get him closer to top match fitness, something might give."

McCourt's problems stem from a lack of core strength in "the middle area of the back". He also joined Celtic with a level of base fitness below that expected of a first-team player. McStay said of the player's prospect of playing a part in the title run-in to the Clydesdale Bank Premier League season: "He has not the capacity to play 90 minutes but he has the capacity to make an impact from the bench. He can unlock defences. He has vision, he has touch. He is the type of player that you try to free so that he can influence games. He's the Lubo Moravcik type."

McCourt may indeed play a part in first-team games when teams succumb to fatigue but his priority is to ensure that he does not tire prematurely himself. A fitness programme has already been drawn up for him to complete in the close season.

On the evidence of yesterday, McCourt will be joined on the fringes of the first team by Simon Ferry. The 20-year-old scored with a marvellous volley to seal the championship. But he has already forced his way into the manager's thoughts after almost three years out through injury.

"It is a delight to see him back.

He has potential," said McStay who has worked with the midfielder almost since the Dundonian arrived at the club. Ferry, a neat passer and energetic runner, has been on the bench in recent Celtic matches and travelled to the Spain with the first- team squad last week.

He has a chance of making it as do Milan Misun, a brawny centre-back yesterday but a long-term candidate for the problematic left-back slot, and Jason Marr, who was impressive in defence.

On the evidence of one bright afternoon in the Ibrox sun, the future is less bright for Rangers. This is misleading, however. The cream of Rangers' crop will play tonight in the final of the Scottish FA Youth Cup against Hibernian.

However, several Rangers players yesterday did not take the chance to make their case for inclusion in Walter Smith's first team for the five games that will decide the league and the Homecoming Scottish Cup final next month.

Aaron Niguez was in disappointing form, Steven Naismith, playing in an unaccustomed midfield role, never impressed and John Fleck lacked the zip and zest of his early first-team appearances.

Andy Webster, booked for a challenge from behind on McCourt, did not make a convincing case for inclusion in the first team either. With Madjid Bougherra suspended for the visit of Hearts on Sunday and Kirk Broadfoot injured, there is a vacancy alongside David Weir.

The other first-team candidate on show was Allan McGregor, routinely abused by the Celtic support who formed the vast majority of the 2400 crowd. The goalkeeper made one minor error but was otherwise smart and efficient. His return the top team, however, seems a long way off.

As does that of Massimo Donati. The Italian had a good game before being substituted with 15 minutes to go. However, the midfield malcontent has been loud and persistent in the denunciation of Gordon Strachan. It is not thought he was removed from action yesterday to keep him fresh for Aberdeen on Saturday.