Today sees the first of a series of articles dedicated to the stars of the season just gone,and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to lead off with my pick as Young Player Of The Year.
Going into the season,there were a number of potential candidates for this. Stephen Welsh would surely build on his reputation,earned in adversity the season before. Michael Johnston must surely come good-after all,his team-mates have been singing his praises for some time now,including a joint interview with Broonie and CalMac where they both declared that he was easily the most skilful player at the club. Karamoko Dembele too must be looking at a breakthrough season,especially given that James Forrest,who has occupied that role for over a decade,was still struggling with injury.
Two names though came from left field in the early part of the season. Anthony Ralston had become something of a forgotten man at the club,someone who was simply seeing out his contract prior to a move to the likes of Hibs or Motherwell. The obscurity of the journeyman beckoned for him,there is little doubt about that. Two things worked in his favour though-we didn’t actually have an alternative right back,and then when we signed a Croatian international for that position,Greg Taylor on the left got injured. This meant that Juranovic was shunted to left back,with AR retaining his place for the time being.
And who can forget his 97th minute winner against Ross County,just as we were starting to panic? Or his many crosses into the box,considerably more per game btw than James Forrest would normally put in? This is a fella who knows when to hit the line,knows when to hit it early. He knows when to hit an oppo player too,for he is no shrinking violet! It’s amazing what a good run of games can do for the confidence,and amazing how that confidence can bring back the skills of a player,even if he himself thought they had long gone. Yes,Tony was right up there for this award.
Another early contender was Adam Montgomery,who I thought had an excellent start to the season in an unfamiliar role at left back. He was another who benefitted from the injury to GT,and the delayed signing of Jura. Sadly,his flame flickered all too briefly,practically being extinguished when Jura arrived and GT regained fitness. He has been on loan since January,but he can take heart from his early season displays. I expect more from him in the coming seasons.
Stephen Welsh can count himself unlucky that he wasn’t really given the chance to build on his outstanding debut season. Even as the back-up to the first choices,he could have expected more opportunities in the centre of defence. After all,those guys are in the wars every game,and the occasional injury is to be expected. Sadly for Stephen,the incumbents,CCV and Starfelt,shrugged off practically every challenge-legal or not-and were virtually ever present. Like Tony Ralston,Stephen can console himself with a league medal and the knowledge that time is on their side.
The winner though came from left field in many respects,despite his £2m price tag. A 19yo winger from the contacts section of Dudu Dahan’s little red book did little to inspire the confidence of the fans. And at 5’6”-coincidentally,the same height as Dembele-there were doubts about his ability to withstand the hammer throwing which is still prevalent in the Scottish game. We need not have worried on that score. And not only was he comfortable on the right,he was happy to go through the middle too. Kicks and stamps,thigh-high tackles didn’t seem to bother this lad,he just got on with the job of tormenting his assailants!
As a young player,and a winger at that,it would have been unrealistic to expect the consistency of,say,a CalMac or CCV,who are older and more experienced and occupy more central positions. And his performances tailed off a little for a while after Christmas,but he was soon back to show us all that Liel Abada was a player to be reckoned with,and one that I hope will be with us for a long time to come. Double figures in his goal tally while still a teenager in his first season at a club,in a new country,augurs well for the future. Both his and ours.
We have an exciting talent on our hands,and in AP we have a man who will manage him properly. As well as the players already mentioned,there are more young players who could be vying for this award next season. Not least Owen Moffat and Rocco Vata,who have been excelling in the youth sides. And especially Matt O’Riley,who has been a revelation since signing for us from MK Dons. But I won’t be making any predictions on next year’s winner,because Ange et al seem to have an eye for a player,and it may well be that the winner next year is not only not yet a Celtic player,but someone that we’ve never bliddy heard of before!
I’ll settle for that,I reckon…
Above article by BMCUWP