A LOT has changed since Tony Ralston was, as a fresh-faced 18-year-old with just a handful of first team appearances for Celtic behind him, selected to face Paris Saint-Germain in a Champions League group game and charged with nullifying the threat posed by Neymar back in 2017.

The right back has featured for the Parkhead club on numerous occasions both domestically and in Europe since that night and has helped them to lift the League Cup, Premiership and Scottish Cup trophies.

He has, too, been capped by Scotland on six occasions, scored once and shown their manager Steve Clarke that he is more than capable of handling the step up to international football. Off the park, meanwhile, he has become a father.

Yet, Ralston, who should start in the cinch Premiership match against Aberdeen at Pittodrie this afternoon in the continued absence of the injured Alistair Johnston, is every bit as determined to do well as he was when he was starting out six years ago. 

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“Back then (when Celtic played PSG), I was young,” he said. “It was a great experience, you learn a lot from games of that nature. But I have taken it forward. I’m in a completely different place now.

“But the hunger is still there. Back then, I was a kid trying to come into a team that was very hard to break into. But I’m still fighting every day to do that, nothing much has changed there. My football has evolved and I have learned as time has gone on. Hopefully, I can put it all into practice.” 

The Herald:

A change of manager can be an unsettling experience for a player. But when Ange Postecoglou departed back in June and was replaced by Brendan Rodgers the defender was delighted. The Northern Irishman gave him his first start for Celtic during his previous spell in the East End of Glasgow. 

 “The gaffer was here when I was younger and he put a lot of faith in me,” said Ralston. “He gave me chances and, looking back, that was massive for my career.  I’m very thankful for those chances to play in the first team.

“He has come in at this point and I am very much looking forward to working with him. I’m delighted he is here. I’m now in a different place both in my personal life and here too.

“As footballers we all have personal lives and family. I’ve got my wee girl and that’s the difference from when the gaffer was here previously. She’s my reason for what I do now. Everything is for her. The gaffer will relate to that too. 

“It’s a very exciting time at the club. I’m 24 now and I just want to push on as much as I can. But nothing changes in terms of putting the work in every day and looking to take my chances with both hands.” 

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Ralston, whose game time last term was limited by the presence of first Josip Juranovic and then his replacement Johnston, enjoyed being involved in Celtic’s opening game of the season against Ross County last weekend and helping the treble winners launch their defence of the Premiership title with a 4-2 win.

He had missed much of pre-season, including the trip to Japan, with a knock and had to push himself at Lennoxtown to get in good enough shape to be involved.

“We had the situation at right back,” he said. “But, regardless of the injury I would have been pushing anyway. It did not give me any special incentive, I just wanted to be fit for the that first game, to get myself in the best possible physical shape, which I managed to do. Credit to the physios and staff here.

“I managed to get there which was amazing. The boys are all in a great place and we just want to build on that great start.” 

The Herald:

Ralston knows he faces a battle to keep his place when Johnston, the Canadian internationalist who was revelation in the second half of the 2022/23 campaign, recovers from an ankle operation and returns. But he is, after eight years at Celtic, quite accustomed to that. 

“When you are at a top club like this that’s the way it should be,” he said. “There should be competition everywhere you look. That’s healthy. 

“I’ve had it before, a good example being Jura who was here during such a successful time for the club. But if he was in the team I supported him, and vice versa. It’s the same with Alistair.

“You need that when you are at a top club, it pushes you every day in training. At the end of the day, it is about the team and how we support each other. If one is in you support the other, you try to push each other every day. It is the same with the country set-up too. It’s all good.”

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Ralston made his Scotland debut in the Qatar 2022 qualifying win over Denmark at Hampden two seasons ago when he came on as a late replacement for Kieran Tierney. Last term he was involved in Nations League encounters with Armenia, who he scored against, the Republic of Ireland and Ukraine.

Aaron Hickey of Brentford and Nathan Patterson of Everton has since been preferred to him. Calvin Ramsay, the Liverpool kid who has joined Preston on loan this season, is another contender for a call-up. But he would love to help his country, who play Cyprus away in their next Euro 2024 qualifier next month, reach Germany next summer and then be involved in the finals.

“We have such a great squad with young hungry players who want to succeed,” he said. “That’s what has stood us in great stead (the national team are on top of Group A at the halfway stage after winning all four of their games).  

“Every chance you get you need to take. I work hard in training and try to show the gaffer that he can rely on me when I do play. Hopefully there will be more games in the future. It’s a big part of everybody’s career, wanting to play for your country.”