PADDY McCOURT is relishing the prospect of challenging teammate, Kris Commons for a regular first team berth as Celtic’s pre-season tour heats up ‘Down Under’.
The former Derry City winger, who is currently in Australia as the ‘Hoops’ embark on their three match tour of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, believes the pre-season campaign will help him get in the perfect shape to challenge Commons for a starting place.
The 27 year-old Shantallow man felt he was close to leaving Parkhead last year until Neil Lennon was appointed boss and promised the N.Ireland international he had a future at the club.
Then Commons arrived from Derby County in superb form in the January Transfer Window and staked his claim on a regular spot in Lennon’s starting line-up.
And McCourt knows he must work harder than ever if he wants to reclaim his place as the SPL season draws closer.
“Like any other player I want to play every minute of every game,” said McCourt. “I felt last season, up until Christmas certainly, I was turning out a lot.
“However, Kris came to the club in January and it was another challenge for me. I found myself back on the bench but hopefully I can provide some competition this year.
“I was happy with my form up until Kris came in and I made 33 appearances in total, which was progress for me.
“My confidence didn’t suffer because I spoke to the manager and he assured me I’d done nothing wrong. It was simply that Kris was playing so well and that was keeping me out. The manager was finding it hard to squeeze me in, so I just need to work hard this year.
“We’ve got a big squad and the manager is trying to add to it. One or two will probably leave - I don’t want to be one of them.
“I don’t think the manager would let me go on loan and I think he sees me as a valuable member of the team. If I was ever going to leave it would be permanently.
“I’m going to focus on what I need to do in Australia and get as fit as possible. If I’m where I was last year in terms of being in and around the squad and playing then I’ll be happy.”
McGinn still in contention
Meanwhile, Neil Lennon has defended his decision to omit Niall McGinn from his 23 man squad in Austrailia and insists there has been no fall-out between him and the player.
“Niall came back to the club later as he was on international duty and we were only ever bringing 23 players here anyway,” said Lennon.
“There has been no fall-out. I’ll speak to him when I get back but he’ll be involved in games before the season starts. He’ll be coming to Ireland with us for the Dublin Cup and he’ll feature against Partick Thistle on July 16th.”