DARREN O'DEA went into the Champions League games against AC Milan as a Bhoy - but has emerged as a man.

On the evidence of his mature display in the San Siro, he will be a very important man in the Celtic side for years to come.

Just over a month after celebrating his passage from teenage years, O'Dea stood up to everything the experienced superstars of Milan could throw at him - even when Stephen McManus deserted his post alongside him in search of that elusive goal which would have pushed Celtic through to today's quarter-final draw.

But for all the admirable maturity O'Dea showed in the San Siro, it was still a night which ended in tears - literally.

The 20-year-old was distraught as he stood in the centre circle at the end of extra-time. And not even words of praise from Milan players, his own management team, and fellow Celtic players could console him.

O'Dea was not content just to have played well in the biggest game of his fledgling career. And that's a quality which ensures he will have a winning career.

He is man enough to speak openly about showing his emotions, something which is not always seen as the done thing in this game.

"I want to win every game of football, no matter the level it's at," he explained honestly.

"Obviously, when you reach this stage, you want to win even more."

Their gracious hosts tried to pay their own tribute by clapping the Celtic players off. But it was just a blur to the youngster.

"It did not really mean anything to me. It was a game of football, and I want to win.

"If I'm not winning, I am going to be disappointed.

"After a couple of days, I might look back and say I've done okay. But, at the moment, all I can feel is disappointment."

O'Dea recognises it is a futile emotion which has gnawed away at the strength of many players before him.

Which is why today he is moving on and has set his sights on bouncing straight back with a win in Sunday's Old Firm game.

O'Dea will now try to turn the experience to his advantage and said: "For all that good things that have been said about our performance against Milan, we still lost a game.

"But we can feel very proud because we had a right go at it. And I'm sure when, in a few days, we look back at the tape, we will be able to take a few positives out of it.

"We felt we did enough over the two legs to merit going through, but it just didn't happen for us.

"We managed to keep Milan quiet early in the game and created our own chances.

"It's just maybe the final ball we need to improve on - and we will do."

O'Dea spoke like a veteran, just as he had played. The pain of going out will linger longer than the memory of how he performed, accentuated by the fact the stopper remains convinced some poor refereeing decisions hampered their already long odds of upsetting the clear favourites on the night.

"It was definitely hand-ball from Paolo Maldini, there is no doubt about that," he said.

"I looked at the referee, and he was looking through a ruck of bodies, so it was tough for him.

"I am not going to complain, but it was definitely hand-ball.

"Of course we are all very disappointed. But we will pick ourselves up for the weekend."

Before that, there is the painful matter of today's Champions League quarter-final draw.

O'Dea has a simple approach to that. "We are not in that, so we just need to forget that.

"The league has always been our priority. So we have to get ready to go again, and we will be ready for what is a massive game again."

AC Milan, Rangers, title parties, cup runs. All a far cry from the reserve football which was his playground at the start of this season.

The likeable and articulate kid smiles as he admits: "The San Siro certainly beats the Shyberry.

"But it is an honour to be involved not only with the club at this level, but with the players who are magnificent.

"We're a really close-knit team and it is great to be part of it. Now I am striving to stay involved as much as I can.

"We won't stop trying to improve as a team and as individuals until we are at the very top.

"Maybe that will never happen, but we won't stop trying."