Callum McGregor was made to wait for his derby debut. He has hardly wasted a moment since.

It is a jarring statistic now, given there is never one without him these days, but the Celtic captain had two whole years of senior experience under his belt by the time he first stepped out against Rangers. Things did not exactly go to plan, either.

A cameo in 2016’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat was followed by a happier outing in the following season’s 5-1 demolition job as Brendan Rodgers swept into Scottish football. Almost seven years on, McGregor is a veteran of these occasions.

Saturday will be his 31st, and he reckons he is just about getting the hang of it. It is also why he knows that, despite Celtic’s nine-point advantage at the Premiership summit, the theory that this 90 minutes somehow means more to a chasing Rangers does not hold any weight.

“These games are always taken in isolation," the 29-year-old said. "Whenever they come around, it doesn’t matter if you’ve won the last one, won the last five or lost the last five.

“On the day, you have to win and send your supporters home happy. That’s what it means to everyone around the world and you understand the expectation.

“Whether there’s a one point gap or nine point gap, it doesn’t really matter.  Again, we approach it the same way we do for every game, they’re all big games for us.

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“The manager demands that of us every time we’re on the pitch, he wants us to be at our absolute maximum. This weekend won’t be any different.

“We do understand that if we win it puts us in a good position, so we’ve got that added incentive, if you will. All we’re thinking about is ‘win the game’ and we’ll see where we’re sitting on Sunday.”

It is the measured wisdom of a man who has forgotten more about what these days entail than most of us will ever know. But it was not always so, given how much time passed between his debut goal in the relatively sedate surroundings of Reykjavik and coming on at Hampden with the eyes of the world upon him.

“In terms of where they were at the time the league was different obviously,” McGregor said of Rangers not being in the top-flight at the time. “That’s the one fixture you want to play in when you get to the first-team having come all the way through the academy and played against them for years and years. 

“Then you get to the first team and that fixture isn’t there. It was a little bit strange in that sense but I think I’ve made up for it now. 

“Someone said that’s 30 appearances I’ve had in the fixture. So, I’ve certainly made up for lost time. 

“I think you become calmer just with age and experience. I’d like to think that I’m still young but I’m getting on a wee bit now!

“I think the more times you play in the fixture, the build-ups are always different. Sometimes it’s a two-day build-up. Sometimes it’s a week. 

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“You learn how to manage these things and when you get to the game you are trying to peak at the right time, physically and mentally. 

“Over time it just becomes more natural, it becomes easier. Part of your job is helping the younger ones coming though and your team-mates to deal with that as well and try and pass on some of the lessons you’ve learned.

“Of course, it still has the power to surprise you. That’s the beauty of football. 

“I think that’s why everyone loves football. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been over the course, every single game is different. 

“You can prepare a certain way all week and the game changes within the first five minutes or it goes exactly to plan. It is a sport that is live. The picture is always changing. 

“That’s the challenge. Each time you go on the pitch, you have to work out what the challenge is quickly and try to adapt. 

“Ultimately you have to be successful. You’ve got to find a way to find success in those 90 minutes.”

McGregor is one of a dwindling few who overlap with this fixture’s past and present eras, that being the gradual erosion of the away support. Ultimately, he would prefer a return to the days of old, where as many as 8000 travelling fans packed into the home of the enemy.

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Still, though, the current arrangement has its perks. Celtic’s 3-0 blitz in February 2022, watched by 60,000 of their own fans only - under the floodlights and with deafening noise - remains at the forefront of McGregor’s mind when he revisits those 30 appearances.

“That’s the flipside of it, you’ll have 60,000 people willing you to do well, win the game and dominate,” he said. “The importance of the supporters in terms of the gameplan and the model we want to play, it’s vitally important to have them onside and have them really pushing the team.

“It gives us that extra bit of energy we sometimes might need.

“That [February 2022 game] is one of, if not the best one [I’ve played in]. It was the first night-time fixture for a number of years, and then there was where we were in the season: if we won, we went above them, so it had all the hallmarks of a great night.

“We managed to match that with the performance and the result so that’s definitely one that stands out. There was all the build-up and where we’d been. We knew if we beat them, we’d go in front of them.”

McGregor was speaking at a launch event for The Billy Against Dementia Golf Day and Dinner, on 26th May at Cameron House Hotel - Tickets can be bought on search for Billy McNeill. Donations can be made by texting “Billy” to 70099.