The Celtic playmaker loved participating in the group stages of Europe’s premier club competition against RB Leipzig of Germany, Spain’s Real Madrid and Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk for the first time earlier this season.
The Danish Under-21 international was stunned when the Scottish champions, despite performing well in all Group F matches and earning praise for their performances from opponents, fans and commentators, failed to advance to the knockout stages.
So defending champions Real Madrid going head-to-head with Liverpool again at the Bernabeu, the iconic 80,000-capacity stadium they built last November, for a place in tomorrow night’s quarter-finals will be tough for him.
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“I’ve probably had mixed feelings watching the Champions League since it resumed this year,” O’Reilly said. “I watched some of the matches and was thinking ‘it would be good to be involved in that’.”
However, the 22-year-old will take every second he can.
He is determined to return to the Champions League next season and help Celtic, who are nine points off the top of the Premier League table with 10 games remaining, to make a better account of themselves and move into the last 16 in the last 16. For the fourth time in their history.
The former Fulham man and MK Dons knows that studying superstars like Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Federico Valverde, Jordan Henderson, Mo Salah and Kodi Gakpo on the job will be beneficial to his continued development.
“As well as we did in my opinion, we were very disappointed in the way we finished with the results,” he said. “But we definitely learned a lot in terms of the rough side of it.
“It’s definitely something I think about constantly. I really miss playing in those big games against the best players. I feel like he brings the best football out of you, and makes you improve too.
“But at the same time there is a lot to learn from these matches because of the parties involved and the level they are playing at. I try to watch as many matches as possible when they are on the go because there is a lot to learn and a lot to study.”
O’Riley has helped Celtic recover from the mental and physical struggles of getting back into the Champions League in the past few months; He featured regularly as the Parkhead club extended their lead over nearest rivals Rangers in the Premier League, overcame city rivals in the Fiaplay Cup Final and reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.
The midfielder believes that maintaining a high level of domestic performance will make it easier for Ange Postecoglou’s side to excel if they return – and at the moment it looks like they will – to the highest level of continental competition next season.
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“It was definitely about complacency,” he said as he looked back on the 3-0 win over Hearts in the cup quarter-final at Tynecastle on Saturday and ahead of the league showdown with in-form Hibs at Parkhead this weekend.
“I think that’s a very important thing. It’s about constantly setting standards for yourself. Even though people on the outside are going to think ‘how can they improve so much?'”
“I think there are always little details we can improve on – especially if we want to compete in competitions like the Champions League next season.
“We’re going to have to be as consistent as we can locally so that we can transition when we play that competition. Especially for all of us players who want to improve, the higher we can raise those levels and really push us to those levels that will help us be In a good place.
“It’s great to win games in Scotland, but it’s not the same as playing against the best players in Europe. But with that being said, if we can keep our level really high and try to dominate teams in Scotland, hopefully that will help our move into the Champions League and competitions from like that.”
O’Riley was upset when, despite playing for Celtic in all six of their Champions League matches, he was left out of Denmark’s squad for the World Cup in Qatar by manager Kasper Hjulmand in November.
The semi-finalists of the European Championship 2020, who topped the qualifiers for the inclusion of Scotland, failed spectacularly in the Middle East region. They failed to win a single game and finished bottom of their group.
Can the former England youth international, who qualified to play for the Scandinavian nation through his Danish mother, imagine his chances of participating in Euro 2024 in his adoptive homeland in the coming months?
Hjulmand still had a wealth of talent at his disposal in the Group H double-header against Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland and San Marino. However, some younger players’ blood may decide in the coming months. O’Reilly would certainly relish the opportunity to show he can handle the rise to international football.
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“I’d rather be called than not,” he said. But at the same time, it’s not something I’d really think about if I’m being brutally honest. That kind of takes care of itself.
“If I perform well, I know my time will eventually come. I’m not too fussy about it. But of course I would like to represent my country. That would be great.”
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