Celtic still hold allure for Irish talents but first-team progression path is imperative

By Euan Davidson

January 5, 2022

So, according to reports, Celtic could secure another Irish talent in Johnny Kenny over the next 24 hours.

Provided the deal is done, he’ll join Liam Scales in the ranks of Irish players who’ve joined Celtic over 21-22. But the role he’ll playing going forward is very interesting indeed.

Just as it was for Scales, in fact.

When Liam Scales came to Celtic, it was unclear whether he’d realistically be in and around the first team. It took time, but he got there, and has contributed meaningfully since joining the Hoops late in the summer transfer window. His obvious delight at joining the club was heartening, and when he’s played, he’s done so with incredible enthusiasm.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

That’s not always been the case for Irish talents joining the Bhoys over recent years, though. Luca Connell was signed in 2019, after 12 appearances for Bolton Wanderers [Transfermarkt]. He’s yet to make an appearance for the Celtic first team, and is on his second loan spell with Queen’s Park.

Lee O’Connor, a former Manchester United prospect, was expected to break into the Celtic first team by now. He, like Connell, is on his second loan spell at the same club; Tranmere Rovers in the EFL. Jonathan Afolabi is out on loan, too, having been signed from Southampton’s Academy.

There are other examples. Armstrong Okoflex was signed to decent fanfare, and actually made an appearance for Celtic against Hibernian last January. He didn’t make much of an impression, though, although West Ham United saw enough to sign him. He’s impressed in their U23 side, and even scored against Celtic in pre-season.

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Can Johnny Kenny be an exception or part of a trend for Irish talent at Celtic Park?

The point is, Johnny Kenny will have absolutely considered all this. And you have to imagine Ange Postecoglou offered him a pleasing proposition at Celtic Park, with the 18-year-old knowing it’s been hit or miss for Irish talents at Celtic Park in recent seasons.

And the fact he’s reportedly joining anyway suggests there is a pathway. The idea of him joining Celtic to go into the B Team would surely upset Irish football fans, who’ve watched Kenny score 11 goals for Sligo Rovers in their top division.

Increasingly, it looks as if Celtic aren’t signing players without a long-term vision. O’Connor, Afolabi, Connell et al would probably have expected to do more by now, but for whatever reason, they haven’t been able to. Whether it’s due to competition ahead of them, training performances or just not being particular fancied for the first team.

Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Scales is an example of patience and hard work paying off. It took time, but it’d be fair to argue he’s a solid second choice at left-back.

Kenny has an opportunity. He’s a fit striker, something Celtic don’t exactly have plenty of at the moment.

It’ll be fascinating to see how he progresses. There are warning stories there for him. But there’s also the lure of the historic club, a manager who’s likely to give him a fair chance, and the possibility of making a real impression at Celtic.

Hopefully, he’ll be confirmed soon, and we’ll find out what direction he takes. But the smart money says, judging his work thus far, that he might just have what it takes.

Read more: Pat Bonner highlights how Celtic boss has managed to improve Joe Hart