Skater Bhoys must be fast out blocks to avoid thin ice

CELTIC can make a quickfire start to the new season under Ronnie Deila and qualify for the Champions League group stages for the third year running.

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Fly Bhoys...manager Ronny Deila and John Collins flew out from Glasgow Airport yesterday with the rest of the Celtic squad
Fly Bhoys...manager Ronny Deila and John Collins flew out from Glasgow Airport yesterday with the rest of the Celtic squad

That was the confident prediction from Hoops right- back Adam Matthews today after pre-season training got underway in Austria.

The Scottish champions returned to action at Lennoxtown last week to give them time to prepare for the first leg of their European qualifier with KR Reykjavik on July 15.

The Parkhead club will have to successfully negotiate the games against the Icelandic club - and two further rounds- to make it into the competition proper.

With reduced revenue coming in due to the continued absence of city rivals Rangers from the top flight, qualifying is hugely important to Celtic financially.

However, as Deila's predecessor Neil Lennon discovered when he first became the manager, that can be a far from straightforward task.

Lennon failed to steer Celtic into the Champions League or the Europa League early on in his time in the dugout.

It was only later on in the Irishman's tenure that he enjoyed significant success in his continental outings. Matthews, though, has helped Celtic to progress before and is confident they can do so once again, despite the change of the man at the helm.

The defender stressed that the players had already responded positively to the changes being instigated by Norwegian boss Deila and his assistant John Collins.

He said: "It is hard when the qualifiers come so early, but it's what we have to do. We did it last year and we did it well.

"That's why we're in as early as we are this time again. We need to be up and running straight away.

"This is the first time I've been at a club when the manager has changed. It has been fine, though.

"Every manager's different. We do more passing drills and more shape. I think he wants us to play more from the back so that's what we've been doing in training. Not a lot has changed apart from the manager. A lot of the staff are still here so it's not a big change, but he has been brilliant so far."

Meanwhile, Matthews, who struggled with injuries in the 2013/14 campaign, has expressed the hope he can feature regularly in the Celtic first team this season. The Welshman knows he will have to be at his very best to command a starting spot in Deila's side with both Darnell Fisher and Mikael Lustig also in the squad. However, the versatile player, who can also be utilised at left back and in midfield, has welcomed the challenge that lies ahead for him personally in the coming months.

He told the club's official website: "I had a lot of niggly injuries last season so it was a disappointing season for me but a great one for the team.

"I'm just hoping to get a good pre-season and kick on. The right-back position is really strong just now with Mikael Lustig and Darnell Fisher there, so I know what I have to do to get in the team.

"It's good to have competition, though, because it keeps you sharp in training. If you have a bad week you know you won't be playing at the weekend.

"Luckily for us we have that in every position. It makes the training much more competitive. Last season I actually played left-back a couple of times as well as right midfield. Wherever I'm asked to play I'll do my best, but right-back is my best position."

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