HAVING been on the bench the night that Celtic slumped to their infamous 1-0 defeat to part-time Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar back in 2016, there is no chance of Callum McGregor ever taking the outcome of any European tie for granted.

The Parkhead club recovered from the reverse they suffered in what was the first competitive game that Brendan Rodgers took charge of and went on to reach the group stages of the Champions League that season.

But the memory of losing the first leg of that qualifying double header to opponents who comprised a customs officer, fireman and a taxi driver has remained with McGregor.

So the prospect of playing one-off matches in the early rounds of that competition next season - the coronavirus pandemic has led to the two-legged ties being temporarily abandoned - isn’t one which fazes the Scotland midfielder.

He knows from bitter experience that the Scottish champions will be punished if they have an off night and is confident they will perform and progress regardless of who or where they are drawn to play.

“European football can be pretty unforgiving at times,” said McGregor. “Sometimes you have to experience these things to learn and you have to make sure you bounce back as a group of players. We learned that lesson and I’m sure there is still a core of players still here who were involved that night.

“The lessons were learned from that night and I’m sure the message will be that we have to be on our game from the start. The lads will know that anyway but it’s just a case of reinforcing it so we don’t get caught cold.

“It’s straight knock-out now. In some ways it’s a positive as you know what is required in the 90 minutes. On the flip side, you know if you don’t play well there is no recovery. It intensifies the situation as you will have to be at it on the night. Likewise, if you do that you are straight though. So it works both ways.

“We’re a group that likes to focus on the positives. The preparations will be good and we’ll back ourselves to adapt to the one-leg affairs and get through.”

McGregor and his Celtic team mates, along with all of their Premiership rivals, return to full-contact training today. He is confident they will be in decent shape when they play their first Champions League tie in mid-August despite spending three months in lockdown after football was suspended back in March. 

He envisages that taking part in an eight club competition in France next month alongside hosts Lyon, Nice and Paris Saint-Germain will ensure Neil Lennon’s side are ready for the return to competitive action. 

“We will have had more training time as a group and should have had a few competitive games under out belts by the time the qualifiers come around,” he said. “That’s a major positive. It’s not the first game when you have one leg and are immediately under pressure. By that stage everyone will be ready to go.”

McGregor knows that Scott Brown – who he has been tipped to replace as Celtic captain at some point in the future – will be itching to be involved despite turning 35 last week.

“We had to get the numbers three and five out,” he said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to fit all the candles on the cake!

McGregor admitted that his evergreen skipper drives him and all of his team mates on to deliver every season.

“He’s incredible,” he said. “He’s getting older, but looks younger on the pitch. Every season he has this desire to keep pushing himself and the lads. It’s an unbelievable testament to his professionalism. It’s second to none.

“He’s certainly inspirational to guys like myself. It gives us hope if we look after ourselves we can prolong our careers. Broony has just turned 35, but he’s still at his peak level and these last couple of seasons he’s played like a 23 year old. He’s been excellent. We want to follow in his footsteps.”

McGregor won the 13th medal of his career last month when the SPFL board decided to end the 2019/20 season prematurely and decide final placings on a points per game basis. But his ambition is undiminished and he is looking forward to a campaign which could see Celtic become the first club ever to win 10 consecutive Scottish titles. 

“Jamesie (Forrest) is a couple (of medals) ahead of me so I’ll need to start kicking him in training,” he said. “As long as I keep played after he chucks it I might have a chance or catching him.

“Seriously, though, it’s incredible when you take stock of how much you have won, and what it’s been like to have been part of such a successful group of players. It’s something to be really proud of. When you are young you dream of winning trophies and if you can win one you would be buzzing.

“But to have won so many in such a short period of time is incredible. You start to look forward and think you might have another seven or eight years. You think you could probably try to win another 10 medals – that would really put you in an elite category of players. When it does come to leaving the club you want to have made your mark and left a legacy.”

McGregor added: “But you can’t really think about that. The reason these guys have been so successful is because they are always looking to the next one. That’s always the most important. When you can do that, all of a sudden you start to accumulate the medals.

“It’s funny, we could win four this season. It might be a good pub question. Obviously the Scottish Cup is still in the background and it could be an exciting year. But all of that is a long way off. The focus is on getting back playing football again and take it from there.”