“You are seen as a footballer instead of as a person,” were the words of Matt O’Riley yesterday, a 22-year-old who has spent the past year and a bit adjusting to life at a club where you are never out of the public gaze.

Falling into the trap of viewing players as some kind of otherworldly being is an easy one; we watch these guys step out to entertain us for 90 minutes a week before slipping back down the tunnel until its time to do it all over again, as though they don’t exist outside of that cycle.

In the age of social media and 24-hour news, they can be presented as mere characters fulfilling a part in the eternal soap opera that is Scottish football. The spotlight of scrutiny is so intense at Celtic that even a modest drop-off in O’Riley’s form earlier this term did not go unnoticed, albeit this was partly because the midfielder had set such a high bar for himself since arriving from MK Dons in January last year.

Adjusting to having your every action on the pitch analysed to death cannot be easy, and O’Riley alluded he has dealt with off-field issues at points this season which have had a tangible effect on him, issues we the outside observers never get to see.

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And although he insists he is now in a good place, he makes a point worth remembering.

“I think I’ve played pretty well in the last four or five games,” he said. “People will always have something to say and I’m not going to say that I didn’t have a slight rough patch around the new year, for various reasons.

“But I think I’m in a really good place now. I was at a good level last week but I think I can still play better.

“There is stuff off the pitch that might not always be obvious to the naked eye, and probably gets overlooked because you’re seen as a footballer instead of as a person.

“I’m in a good place mentally [now] and usually when that’s the case, the rest takes care of itself.

“Social media is a platform where people only post the good things in their life. People don’t go on there and say they’re having a really shit day. That doesn’t really happen.

“That’s where we all have to be a bit careful, and bear in mind when you’re looking at someone’s Instagram that you’re only seeing the good things in their life.

“I’m sure that every single person posting things like that has something dark going on behind the scenes as well.

“I genuinely only use social media to post, other than that I don’t check it at all because I don’t think it does me any good.”

It has been said so many times that talent is never enough to succeed at clubs like Celtic. It requires a certain bulletproof mentality in the face of criticism, and the drive to meet the expectation you must win every single game. Only two domestic defeats in his Parkhead career suggests O’Riley has that in abundance. But he insists that any outside pressure pales in comparison to the standards he places on himself.

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“It comes more from pressure in my own head than externally,” he explained. “As much as external noise has some effect, the only pressure I have comes from the standards I set myself every day.

“Previously in the season, and last season, I set quite a high bar, so maintaining that level and looking to improve on it was always going to be tough. I’m still pretty young as well so I’ve got a lot still to learn on the way. All these experiences, good and bad, should put me in a good place.”

After a standout display in the 4-1 win over Kilmarnock last month, O’Riley expressed frustration over his goal and assist numbers this season. In response, Ange Postecoglou insisted he need not worry so much about it, and the Denmark U-21 international admits he’s trying not to give himself such a rough time.

“I’m getting better at trying not to be so hard on myself,” he said. “There have been times in the past when I’ve not had as good a game as I wanted to, and then there are little things you carry with you.

“I don’t think that’s a good approach to have, because you end up taking them into training. That’s something I’ve improved on a lot and I think that’s why you now see me in a better place on the pitch.

“If you care so much about what you do, it puts extra weight on your shoulders. But that’s not to say I don’t love it. Even all these bad times, I’m going to look back on them with enjoyment because they taught me so much about myself and about football in general.

“My mindset is that I just want to be as good a footballer as I can be. I’m not someone who has ever followed the pay cheques, and that’s reflected in past decisions in my career: I always try to do what’s best for my career, whether that’s taking a step down, eating the right food, loads of little things off the pitch that don’t get seen.

“I always make every decision to be a better footballer. Where that takes me who knows, but naturally I’d like to try to play at the very highest level.”

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O’Riley is among a number of this Celtic squad about whom it is generally accepted will go on to play their football at a higher level. This Sunday, however, it’s back to where it all started for him in Scotland.

He was hurried up from London just a few days before Celtic delivered a statement performance at Tynecastle in February 2022, with O’Riley at the heart of it. This weekend, another victory would crown them Premiership champions for the second year running. Should confirmation be made to wait another week, Celtic could get over the line at Ibrox – but O’Riley is adamant they want to get the job done as early as possible.

“I made my debut there and it was a fun night,” he recalled. “It was three days after I signed, so I was kind of thrown straight in but it was probably the best place to be thrown straight in because it was good preparation for Scottish football.

“It was pretty hectic. I got driven up from London, which is quite a long drive, I trained the next day and the one after that then I was in Edinburgh playing a game.

“It all happened very quickly and I didn’t have any time to think about it. I just did it. It was a hostile atmosphere. Their fans probably aren’t too fond of us, naturally, but it’s those kind of games we enjoy most as players.

“We’d like to win it earlier than later if possible, because we like to win every game - that’s the first thing. It should hopefully be a good day.”