Celtic midfielder Matt O’Riley feels he is a stronger character for dealing with his spell out of the starting line-up and other off-field issues.
O’Riley has played in 37 of Celtic’s 39 games this season but has only started three of their last 11 matches, with the form of Aaron Mooy and Reo Hatate limiting him to a regular role as a substitute.
The 22-year-old had experienced a flying start to his Celtic career after joining from MK Dons in January 2022 and the slight dip in playing time and unspecified personal factors have presented a challenge.
“Of course I would like to play probably a bit more than I have, naturally,” the Denmark Under-21 international said.
“I think sometimes there are things away from football as well that people may not see, which can also affect you at times.
“I understand from a fan’s perspective they only see what happens on the pitch, which is completely fair enough, but if something else is happening elsewhere then sometimes that also plays a part in you mentally.
“I think I am in a much better place now than I was probably during that time.
“I have learnt a lot to be honest, having pretty much been a regular for most of the season and not playing a little bit. I have learnt a lot, especially mentally, because it’s difficult when you go from that expectation of playing all the time to maybe not playing as much.
“But, to be honest, right now, I feel it’s probably the best place I have been in a long time. So those experiences of not playing and having tough times away from the pitch, they definitely shape you into being a better person.”
O’Riley, who has twice scored off the bench in Celtic’s last four games, added: “I think I’m in a good place. I think I’m in a good place mentally, which is the most important thing. The rest usually takes care of itself when the mental side is good. I feel like I am in a good place physically and mentally.”
The former Fulham academy player has ensured he carries the same attitude into games when he is among the substitutes.
“You have to approach every game the same, that’s the most important thing, whether you are on the bench or starting,” he said.
“If you are on the bench, you have got to be ready to play at any time. Someone could get injured unfortunately or something could happen where you need to come on earlier than expected.
“So the most important thing is to be ready regardless of whether you are starting or playing.
“And also, with the way we play, a lot of the times in games, the last half-hour the opposition tend to be quite tired and there is usually a lot of space and gaps open up. So if you are ready and focused, there are definitely chances to impact the game.
“Of course you would like to start every game but at the same time you know we have a lot of healthy competition here, so it’s not always the case.
“It’s always a positive, the more competition you have. People would be lying if they said they played their best football when they don’t have competition.
“You naturally play better when people are pushing you to play at a higher level.”