Celtic Academy loan stars round-up: the fans' perspective

By Euan Davidson

May 18, 2021

Given the season we had, we probably could’ve used more Celtic Academy talents.

With players like Callum McGregor playing over 4000 minutes [Transfermarkt], and a lack of options on the wings, the squad has looked extremely thin in 20-21. Still, not everyone can play, and there were several Celtic Academy talents needing game-time to kick-start their development.

Raw stats and match reports just don’t do it sometimes. They’re useful, sure, but we wanted to hear from supporters. With that in mind, we talked to supporters of Tranmere Rovers, Clyde, Queen’s Park, Dunfermline Athletic and Cliftonville. Between them, we got a proper review of Lee O’Connor, Ewan Otoo, Luca Connell, Ryan Mullen, Brody Paterson, Ewan Henderson, Kerr McInroy and Barry Coffey.

Thanks to all of the contributors, and we wish you the best of luck in 21-22.

Celtic defender Lee O’Connor / (Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus)

Celtic’s League Two utility man

Tranmere and Celtic supporter Adam Fraser told 67 Hail Hail about Lee O’Connor’s season:

All I knew about Lee O’Connor was that he was from Celtic and Manchester United before that. I can’t say I was too fussed at first, but curious, as he came from Celtic who are my second team.

He’s been very good when he’s played, plugged a hole at RB which had been a little bit of a problem position for a year or two. Took him a little while to get in the team but we were better for it. O’Connor seemed fairly decent in defence, and played well in the build up to an attack. He’s very versatile from what I’ve seen, playing at CB when he needs to.

[I can’t] think of anything he needs to work on, he seems like a big fish in a small pond down in league 2.

It was a bit of a rollercoaster season. Tranmere had a terrible start, Keith Hill came in and stabilised things but he apparently lost the dressing room and had a terrible run of 2 wins in 11 games at the end. We should have been fighting for automatic promotion, but I can’t complain too much at play offs.

If we get to League 1, I’d take him back for next season. It would be good for us and to continue his own development in a better league. Couldn’t see him coming back if we don’t get promoted.

The surprise package

Dylan Macdonald, Clyde fan, told us all about Ewan Otoo:

Loaning in exciting youth players from Premiership sides, in particular Celtic, Rangers and St.Mirren was a trend for Clyde this season. Prior to joining the club, you’d struggle to find a Clyde fan who knew much about Ewan Otoo at all. Perhaps outwith a few bits and pieces of highlights from Celtic youth matches. His addition was welcome in the sense that we needed something different in that LB slot.

For me, he’s been the stand-out loan signing of the season, alongside Lewis Jamieson from St.Mirren. His energy levels throughout a relentless fixture schedule was fantastic and it’s clear to see he has not just not a cut above quality wise but his level headed approach and calmness on and off the ball would make you think he’s been playing regular, first team football for years.

[I’ve] been particularly impressed with his energy driving up and down the wing, both from an attacking and defensive point of view. His defensive positioning was mostly good but over time that will improve with more regular game time. As per some of the highlights from Ewan’s time at the club, it’s clear to see he is confident in driving forward and trying to create opportunities.

“Fingers crossed” – Otoo a hit with Clyde fans

This season was Frustrating with a sprinkle of relief. We managed to escape the relegation play-off spot after two wins in our final two games but we got lucky at times. However, considering the amount of games we managed, this group of players and management deserve enormous credit. Let’s hope we regroup and go again next season…hopefully far away from the bottom end of the table!

If I was in the recruitment team at Clyde, picking up the phone to Celtic and getting Ewan back for a full season would be towards the top of the list. Myself and most others would absolutely love to see Ewan back playing in a Clyde jersey. He would benefit from a full season at Broadwood instead of jumping about the Lowland League with the Colts, let’s just say that. Fingers crossed!

Luca Connell on duty for Ireland / (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The Celtic trio winning promotion

Queen’s Park fan Ross Laird told us:

Brody Paterson and Ryan Mullen were pretty much unknown quantities when they arrived. I believe they had played against us in the Irn Bru Cup last season though, for the Celtic Colts. Nonetheless, we probably expected Mullen to be back-up to our goalkeeper Wullie Muir. He’s been on fine fine form this season. A fair few of our support had probably at least heard of Luca Connell, given his pedigree and the move to Celtic. Came with great reviews too.

You’d probably say Connell, in his 10-odd games has had the greatest impact. He’s looked really neat at times, and clearly he’s quite a technical player. Despite his size, he’s held his own as well popping up with some really important (and impressive) goals and assists. See his goals against Albion Rovers and Brechin.

Making an impact

Paterson, as I say, is an unknown quantity. He couldn’t really push out Tommy Robson as 1st-choice left back, but got a chance following Robson’s injury. Really impressed by him, some great runs up the wing, and hasn’t really looked fazed against more experienced players. Admittedly being surrounded by relatively good quality players for that level, and a leader in Peter Grant, has probably helped him.

I can’t really comment fairly on Mullen. I seem to remember he played close to half of a match and got injured. That said, he’d have to have put some shift on in training to have been remotely close to pushing out starting GK from his berth.

Luca Connell is pretty nifty and technically gifted. His ball distribution was excellent, and his delivery at set pieces led to a few goals. In terms of improvement, probably his mentality at times. In games which were tight, he’s tend to go missing and you could see a misplaced pass or missed tackle began to get to the lad. Without a doubt though, competent at a much higher level.

Paterson also, great composure and ability to see a pass. Sometimes a little rash in decision making, but being walked through the game by Peter Grant and Lee Kilday certainly helped the lad. Again, I can’t really comment on Mullen in great depth.

Great progress for Queen’s Park trio

Mullen, too, but he’s an unknown quantity. At Queen’s, we’ve got a couple of young goalkeepers (Jacques Heraghty chiefly), and I’d rather we developed them. Regardless, we seem to have formed an informal link with Celtic. Hopefully this continues.

Ewan Henderson and Kerr McInroy: a future Celtic duo?

We spoke to Dunfermline Athletic supporter Ricki Lord:

I didn’t know an awful lot about either of them other that Ewan is Liam’s brother! To be honest I’m always weary about loans from Celtic or Rangers as a lot of the time the players don’t live up to the expectation. Kerr came in at the end of summer and Ewan at the end of March. I spoke to a couple of my Celtic supporting mates who said both were good signings for the Championship – especially Ewan Henderson – which was reassuring. There certainly seems to be high hopes for him at Parkhead.

Kerr started the season strongly and was playing in the centre of midfield. He would give a solid 7/10 every week without ever standing out. He may have been a victim of circumstances as the manager changed formations and line ups to try and find a winning side but he only started 11 games in the season. I was hoping he would be more of a goal threat from midfield but he failed to ever really make a mark during his appearances and never stood out.

In contrast, Ewan played 6 games and continually looked a threat. He is a player that would get you on the edge of your seat (or sofa!). It didn’t always come off for him but he was encouraged to play with freedom. Provided a few assists including one really skilful move against Arbroath. A really nice player and will only get better as he develops.

Contrasting attributes

They’re very different players. Kerr had a good bit of dig about him and put himself about but then would drift out of games. Ewan is skilful and can pick a pass – he may struggle against more physical teams due to his build.

We started really well and looked like we could push on to challenge Hearts for the league but after a couple of poor defeats we never recovered and the season was a damp squib from December onwards – we couldn’t put a run of form together and stumbled over the line into the playoffs. Really disappointing after such a good start and I wasn’t surprised to see Stevie Crawford step down.

I would take both players back. Kerr, whilst not being outstanding, didn’t ever put a foot wrong and was solid enough for this level. I think he would be a squad player though, and that’s probably not what a loan signing wants to be. Ewan would be a starter at any Championship club based on his 6 appearances and I would be delighted if we had him next season.

Celtic youngster Barry Coffey / (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Barry Coffey: exciting Irish prospect, next stop Celtic first-team?

Cliftonville fan Deaglan Coleman had this to say on Celtic youngster Barry Coffey:

Well being Irish and a Celtic fan, I was aware of him through our youth system and playing for the Republic’s U19s and had been hearing great reviews. When I seen that Cliftonville had got him on loan I was buzzing to see what he can do in what can be a very tough league at times.

He’s brought a more exciting edge to our game. I think it’s fair to say Cliftonville weren’t having the best of seasons until Coffey arrived. We were yo-yoing the top and bottom six at one point. Since he’s come in we tried to make a push for the European spots, picking up big results v Coleraine, Larne and Glentoran.

But we had to settle for a Europa League qualification play off spot to decides who gets the extra European slot. But I think it’s fair to say he along with other new signings in January lifted the motivation of the club.

I think one of the best things we’ve seen from him is he can be a long range specialist. He won the goal of the month recently with a brilliant strike from outside the box into the top corner v Carrick in a 5-0 win and also scored a beautiful free kick in a 2-1 loss to Larne in off the post.

His passing and dribbling are superb. Another positive is we play on a plastic surface which can useful if he ever gets the chance in Scotland where Celtic have had trouble with them in the past.

The only bad thing I have to say about him, is the fans haven’t had the pleasure of actually watching him in the stadium. Though for the final two league games and the play-offs, we may finally get the chance.

A starring role

Like I said I don’t think [our season] started off the best. We were drawing and losing games, which on paper which we shouldn’t have, and then putting in the effort against the likes of Linfield, Glentoran, Larne and Crusaders. Those sides are all now full time footballers.

The 4-3 win at home over Linfield was my personal highlight of the season. It is difficult now to compete with the spending of these clubs. In January, Glentoran signed our best player for a large fee that is really unheard of in Irish Football. We’re just trying to punch above our weight at the moment. The end goal for the season is to solidify 5th place and win the Europa League play off.

I would 100% take Coffey back for another year to try and see what he could do with us for the full season. But selfishly as a Celtic fan too I would like to see him in a better league. Maybe [he could] take the Luca Connell route, as his loan has been a major success. I just hope the end goal for him is making his Celtic debut in the near future.