With the recent news that Paddy McCourt has been left out of Celtic’s Champions League squad, it seems that the end is nigh at Celtic for the ‘Derry Pele’, and one of Celtic’s biggest cult heroes in recent years will be leaving the club, a pity really as in my opinion he could have had a much bigger impact at the club.
Even though McCourt was signed in 2008, he didn’t make much of an impression until Tony Mowbray took charge. Mowbray at first seemed to see Paddy as a ‘wild card’, and McCourt made an instant impact with truly superb solo goals against St. Mirren and Falkirk. However, after that he mostly faded from view as injuries and lack of match fitness meant that he only played 14 times that season.
In hindsight, season 2010-11 has to be viewed as McCourt’s finest at Celtic. He scored the only goal at Inverness in the opening game of the season, scored memorable solo goals against Hearts and Inverness , got the winning goal against Motherwell and played the role of ‘behind the striker’ at Ibrox in the momentous 2-0 win in January 2011. He played a game which was not his natural one that day, as he worked tirelessly for the team and was forced to dig in and use the defensive side of him game, which he did well. All in all he played 31 games and scored 7 goals, by far his best at Celtic.
However, in both last season and this season his role has diminished to a bit-part player once more, with Neil Lennon unable to trust his fitness. Indeed, this season he has only started two league games this season, and most recently been used as a sub in an attempt to rescue games when we have not played well.
So why has a player with such undoubted talent been used so sparingly? It has to be his lack of fitness. Match fitness problems seem to have dogged McCourt throughout his football career – not just at Celtic – so it’s not really a shock that he has started so few games, and it’s unlikely to be a personal problem between McCourt and the manger, given the creative problems Celtic can have at times I’m sure Neil Lennon would love to a fully fit McCourt in the squad. Perhaps it’s also a problem of how McCourt applies himself in training, he doesn’t show enough to be put in the first team, and to be honest he didn’t do much in his last starting appearance, the 1-1 draw with Arbroath in the Scottish Cup.
Despite the problems outlined above, I still feel that McCourt still has plenty to offer, but it seems unlikely that his will be at Celtic, and his time here will be seen as a missed opportunity, for both the player and the club. Still, at least he will be remembered for the great goals he scored, and no doubt after he is long gong from Celtic Park the fans – who have always supported him – will sing his name. I very much doubt there will be a ‘riot’ when leaves though.