Callum McGregor credits the pain of Celtic’s car crash campaign last season with inspiring him to play a leading role in the recovery.
The Hoops captain will lead his side out against Rangers this afternoon, knowing a win would all but guarantee they will be crowned Premiership champions.
It would be their tenth title in the last eleven years, and the pinnacle of the 28-year-old’s career.
By any standards, too, the success would put the seal on what has been a remarkable turnaround over the last 10 months.
Back at the end of summer transfer window, Celtic were still a club in turmoil, coming to terms with their humbling at the hands of rivals Rangers in the 2020-21 campaign and the loss of the spine of their side.
Odsonne Edouard, Ryan Christie, Kris Ajer and Scott Brown were all gone and, while Ange Postecoglou had been busy in the transfer market, his new recruits were untested in Scottish football.
McGregor, however, insists his belief never wavered.
“I took what we went through as a club last season personally,” he said.
“I wanted to come back and show people that was a one-off.
“When the boys mentioned left, it was the end of an era, and a successful team. Everybody said: ‘Can they go again? Can he do it again?’.
“Those were the questions off the back of a poor season. We had to come back and show people that we could be successful again.
“I wanted us to be a success in our own right. Not just that was Brendan’s team or that was Lennon’s team or Broony’s team, or whatever.
“We had to create our own history as a new group of players. That was the biggest challenge.
“When I came back for pre-season, I met the manager and we both really liked each other.
“I liked the vision he had, and the way he wanted us to play. As Tom Rogic had told us, it was good football, loads of rotation and interchanging of position – which suits my game well.
“He laid out his plans for the team, and it rolled on from there.”
The impact made over the season by the likes of Jota, Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate, Liel Abada and Cameron Carter-Vickers has stunned the Scottish game.
And McGregor – who has played in a mask since suffering a nasty cheekbone injury against Alloa in January – recalled they took no time at all to make him feel good about what lay ahead.
“When the players and manager came through the door, I thought: ‘They fancy this’. You could see it in their eyes,” he continued.
“They came in, played their part, and have been fantastic.
“Cam (Carter Vickers) and Carl (Starfelt) have played pretty much every game, and they have done so at a really high level.
“But every player has played their part, whether right through or just chipping in at the right time.
“For so many players to come in together at the same time and play well has been brilliant.
“Now it is just about us staying calm, and trying to finish it off in the right manner.
“The beauty of this group is there is still more to come, more development in the players with the way the manager wants to play to take us to the next level.”
As much as there is plenty to look forward to, the winning of the title would still be a time to reflect – for McGregor as an individual as well as for Celtic on the whole.
Asked at a PFA Scotland event announcing the players’ nominees for Player of the Year – of which he is one – if lifting the league trophy would be the pinnacle of his career, he was in no doubt .
“Absolutely! To captain the club anyway is such a massive honour,” replied CalMac.
“Every time I go on the pitch, I give everything – for the club, for the supporters, for my team-mates.
“If we can go and finish it off, and make it a successful season and potentially lift the trophy, that would be a dream come true.
“You try and map out your career, and you have ups and downs. Everyone has them, and they hopefully make you a better player, and a stronger person.
“If you can get a moment like that, it would make it all worth it.”
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