Celtic pair Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi were yesterday recognised for their international performances as both men scooped two prestigious awards.
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) declared O’Connor the under-21s player of the year. This follows on from his Under-19 award from last year, with Afolabi succeeding him as the under-19s player of the year.
It was a big year for O’Connor in particular at international level. He made his senior debut back in November in a 3-1 win against New Zealand. He even managed to bag an assist in the contest too. Given we lost almost six months of the football calendar due to the health pandemic, it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s what sealed it for him.
As for Afolabi, he impressed for the under-19s in last year’s UEFA Under-19 European Championships. He ended the contest in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament, whilst also getting himself on the scoresheet against the Czech Republic.
Afolabi and O’Connor will both surely be delighted with the boost after their loan spells with Dunfermline Athletic and Partick Thistle were cut short due to the pandemic.
A big year of development for both
Yesterday, we spoke about how vital it was for both players in particular to get more game-time at senior level.
It’s clear that both players are highly-rated, and Celtic shouldn’t be letting them settle for development team football. Both are clearly ready to feature in the senior game, regardless of whether they have to drop back down to the Championship to seal a move.
There is no sign that either man is being considered for a place in Neil Lennon’s first team this season. O’Connor and Afolabi weren’t anywhere to be seen during pre-season. That’s despite the fact that youngsters such as Ewan Henderson, Karamoko Dembele, Kerr McInroy, and Luca Connell all got runouts respectively.
As things stand, Afolabi is currently the fifth choice striker at the club with Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths, Patryk Klimala, and Vakoun Bayo all ahead of him. O’Connor, meanwhile, sits behind Jeremie Frimpong and Hatem Elhamed in the right-back pecking order.
Chances look limited for both within the next 12 months, but it’s their long-term development that should be the focus for Celtic. Sending them out on loan is surely the way forward here.