JOHN KENNEDY, the Celtic first-team coach, has urged young defender Eoghan O’Connell to prove his early season form is no fluke and earn himself a long-term deal at the club.

The Irishman has been what managers are known to describe as “like a new signing” given how he has shown himself to be an assured ball-playing centre-half with an air of calmness around him which has belied his lack of experience.

O’Connell, who turns 21 next week, has been knocking on the first-team door for a number of years now at Celtic Park. He’s been on loan, including a spell last season with Cork City, his hometown club, but it is only now under Brendan Rodgers that he’s been given a run of matches.

Read more: The days of late winning goals have returned for good to Celtic ParkHeraldScotland: Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers (right) with Eoghan O'Connell.

His contract runs out at the end of this season and, as Kennedy said, there is only one way for him to be offered a new deal at Celtic.

“To be fair it’s (his contract) something we’re well aware of,” admitted Kennedy. “Last season was tough on Eoghan because he hardly played any football. But he’s come back and has been looking strong.

“So I’m pretty sure we’ll look at that soon and that the club will sit down with him and his representatives and we’ll see what the outcome is. But he’s put himself in a good position with his performances and that’s all we can ask.

“He’s getting to an age where it’s make or break for him in terms of first team at Celtic and you don’t often get the long-term contract.

"Kieran Tierney has come in and got one after doing the business and Eoghan is still to get to that stage. It’s still early stages for him but he’s certainly done himself a lot of favours in terms of the way he’s played and performed.”

It might well be the case that O’Connell will find himself back on the bench soon enough. Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata will be back soon-ish, although chances are that will not be until next month, and Kolo Toure already looks like the team’s No1 defender.

However, O’Connell gives off the impression that he could be here for a while. The way he never panics, how he picks a pass and never merely launches the ball forward has been impressive to watch.HeraldScotland: Celtic's Eoghan O'Connell on his first European start for the club.

“We have always been brought up at Celtic to be comfortable on the ball and take it from the back,” he explained. “I have had that since I was young – I used to play in midfield until I was 15 and maybe that had something to do with it – but it’s something I enjoy, taking the ball under pressure and taking it out from the back.

“That is the way we play here; open and attacking football. I think you need to be able to deal with the ball.

“I don’t think you have to punt the ball. We have been taught at Celtic to play the most expansive football we can, as that is the style. When I first signed for the club, perhaps one of the strongest parts of my games was to play the game.

“I didn’t really expect this. I have played a few games but it was always one-in, one-out kind of a thing. I have never really had a run. It is difficult to plant a seed in people’s heads, that you are ready to play, if you are only playing one game.

“I have got this little run now and I’m hoping to prove to people that I am ready and good enough to play here.”

O’Connell will start tonight in Celtic’s first Betfred Cup match, against Motherwell in Glasgow, a tournament that has to be taken seriously by the club which has won just one of the six available domestic cup trophies over the past three seasons.HeraldScotland: Efe Ambrose, left, speaks with Eoghan O'Connell during the Celtic game against Astana on Wednesday night.

“We will treat the competition with the utmost respect - we’ll treat it like a Champions League game,” said Kennedy. “We won’t take our foot off the gas. This is the first trophy that’s available to win and that is our objective.

“It starts against Motherwell. We have a few knocks but the team we’ll put out will be the strongest side we have possible to win the game.”

Meanwhile, Motherwell’s former Celtic defender Stephen McManus believes that the Fir Park club can pull off the type of shock at Celtic Park tonight that he used to be a part of when he played in the hoops.

McManus enjoyed some famous victories over some of the most illustrious names in European football while at Celtic, and he thinks that a victory for Motherwell this evening would be right up there with any of those achievements..

“It’s going to be difficult, but I’ve played in games when Celtic lost Scottish Cup and League Cup games at Parkhead,” McManus said.

“We’ll go into the game full of confidence because we know we have players in wider areas who can hurt teams. But we need to be solid defensively and work hard as a team.

“We know if we play to our capabilities and they play to their capabilities then the chances are they’ll win the game because they have the better players. But there’s always a chance.

“When I was at Celtic we had results against AC Milan and Manchester United while playing in the Champions League. We weren’t expected to get anything but we did.

“It’s the same for us going there now. Celtic are the bigger club and will be expected to win but it’s a one-off cup game and anything can happen.”