Exclusive: Irish football expert Andrew Dempsey talks to 67 Hail Hail about Celtic target Liam Scales

By Euan Davidson

August 7, 2021

When Liam Scales emerged as a Celtic target [Daily Record], it’s fair to say not all of us had inside info on the Shamrock Rovers defender.

Scales, who’s developed an excellent reputation for himself in Irish football, is attracting interest from not only Celtic. The Irish Mirror have reported that Premier League clubs are also interested in the 22-year-old centre-back.

As usual, 67 Hail Hail like to get a local take on transfer targets. That doesn’t change even the view is only from across the Irish Sea. Andrew Dempsey, of Balls.ie and Extra Time, knows a thing or two about Scales. Before we recorded our chat, Dempsey told me he’d even studied with him at UCD.

So, we had to ask the Irish football journalist a few questions. If you weren’t convinced by Scales beforehand, this could well change your mind.

Celtic target Liam Scales: young, but with plenty of credentials

67 Hail Hail: Scales has over 130 professional appearances despite being 22. Has there been hype around him for a considerable time?

Andrew Dempsey: “There has been, to be fair. I’d say ever since he made the move to Shamrock Rovers, it’s kind of taken a whole new level. He would’ve started off his career at UCD. They’d obviously be a college team, and a League of Ireland team as well.

FK Jablonec 2-4 Celtic | LIVE Reaction

FK Jablonec 2-4 Celtic | LIVE Reaction

“They’re generally in the First Division, and every couple of years they have this exceptional team that gets promoted to the Premier Division. Scales was actually part of that team.

“In 2017, I don’t think many people were talking about him, I certainly wasn’t. But as soon as 2018 came around, people were always talking about him. 2019 came, he did pretty well for UCD in the Premier Division. They came dead least, conceded 70-odd goals, but you’d probably say he was their best player!

“Even during that season, he had trials with Manchester City. They were in for him in April that year. Then that summer, Bristol Rovers were in for him. That deal was all but done, it was a lot of paperwork that actually held it up.

“Then he went to Shamrock Rovers, and has taken off. It’s mad really, how it’s taken off for him, you know?”

On the move that never happened

Scales was close to joining Bristol Rovers before he joined Shamrock Rovers; did he improve so much over 20-21 that it’s reasonable for far bigger clubs than Bristol to be after him?

“Definitely! I was actually disappointed when I heard the Bristol Rovers stuff. I think what happened there, is Rovers wanted to take him on a free. They essentially wanted UCD to give him away for nothing, which obviously wasn’t going to happen.

“League of Ireland clubs earn a lot of criticism for not making money for players, not thinking like businesses. UCD actually tried to think like a business, and Bristol [Rovers] tried to shame UCD into giving him to them.

“It actually has worked out for him. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t associate Bristol Rovers with the kind of football Liam plays. Liam likes to play in a team that passes the ball around. He likes to get forward.

“He’s got a lot more experience, European experience now, with Shamrock Rovers in Europe. Last year, he played against AC Milan in the Europa League, obviously he’s played against Slovan Bratislava.

“In a weird way, that failed move to Bristol has been a blessing in disguise for him. Especially when you look at the clubs that are in for him now.”

Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Celtic target Liam Scales: a step up on previous Irish recruits?

Celtic have often found gems from Ireland over the years but not necessarily used them; is Scales more likely to succeed where others didn’t?

“Yeah. I think so, now. I hate making generalisations about Celtic, but the impression I get is that they’re at a very low ebb. Obviously, I would’ve seen a lot of the reaction to Scales, probably just through fan accounts more than anything, saying “why are we buying him?”, “this is a Dermot Desmond thing”, all this kind of stuff.

“Look, I completely understand that. But this kid is good, he’s really, really good. He’s really composed on the ball, he can pass, he can get forward. I don’t know if you’ve seen his goals, but he scored two absolute screamers against Dundalk this season.

“The first one is something like you’d see from Dennis Bergkamp. The second was… he runs, a thirty yard run, and pings it in the top corner. Absolutely mad.

“He can pass, he can defend, he can shoot, he can finish. He may need to develop a little bit, but he’s that assured on the ball that [moving to Scotland] won’t be a problem for him.”

Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images

The Desmond Effect

Our principal shareholder, Dermot Desmond, has a stake in Shamrock Rovers. Does that give Celtic a sizeable advantage here, or is it not as simple as that?

“I don’t particularly think so. One of the good things Shamrock Rovers have done over the last couple of years is cast their net out. Rovers won’t just sell to Celtic for the sake of Dermot Desmond. I don’t think that should be the case either.

“Obviously, if he does end up at Celtic, it’ll be reflective of Celtic putting in a reasonable bid for him. There’s talk of some Premier League clubs involved – from what I’ve heard it’s Southampton and Norwich looking at him. The reported fee is between £600-700k for him. So, yeah, we’ll see what happens.

“But look, everything points to him moving to Celtic. For him, more importantly, I’d like to see it happen. Growing up in Ireland, everyone in Ireland seems to have a great connection with Celtic, so it probably would be the dream move.

“But if a Premier League club comes in and offers Rovers, say, a couple of hundred grand more than Celtic are offering, they’re more inclined to accept that, than think about Desmond and what he’s offering, because he’s got a share in Shamrock Rovers.

“I don’t think they’re going to be paralysed by their loyalty to the man.”

From Uni days to Paradise?

Finally, you mentioned you’d studied with him before we started recording. What’s he like as a guy, can you see him being a positive influence?

“From what I came across, he’s really down to Earth. There’s no ego about him. He’s probably one of the nicest games I’ve ever come across, even to interview after [UCD] games.

“Look, I’ll be honest, I haven’t spoken to him since his UCD days, but all the impressions I’ve got from Shamrock Rovers are he’s been the exact same. I wouldn’t expect him to change or anything.

“Going into that kind of environment [at Celtic], I don’t know how it’ll go for him. I hope it really does go well for him, I can see him obviously doing really well. He probably deserves it, especially the path he’s taken, as well.

“Liam only kicked on when he was 19, 20. He’s had to work hard for where he is now, I think that’s probably reflected in his character.”

Our verdict on Celtic target Liam Scales

Having watched a bit of Celtic target Liam Scales’ play, there’s plenty to be excited about here. Is it likely he’d get straight into the first team? Probably not. Would he represent a bit of a project for Celtic? Maybe, yeah.

That said, we underrate the League of Ireland. Bohemians just beat PAOK this week [UEFA]. Shamrock Rovers, too, have acquitted themselves well in Europe [UEFA]. You can safely add Dundalk to that list.

So, clearly, there have to be some good players coming through. It feels daft not to exploit the popularity Celtic have in Ireland, then, and attempt to lure over the League of Ireland’s top talents.

Scales is, profoundly, one of those. Sure, he might not be the finished article yet, but for less than a million, it seems we’d get our money’s worth.

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