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Lennon urges McCourt to step up to plate

Neil Lennon has challenged Paddy McCourt to go that extra mile with his fitness and prove he is up to speed as a potential Celtic replacement for the departing Aiden McGeady.

•  Lennon admits McGeady blow

McGeady is poised to complete a £9.5 million move to Spartak Moscow with Lennon revealing, after Sunday's 2-1 home friendly loss to Blackburn, that the player had already "said his goodbyes'' at Parkhead.

McCourt extended his Celtic contract with a new three-year deal earlier this summer and was given McGeady's wide role on Sunday, producing an uneven display of sublime skill, combined with some sluggish decision-making.

Now, with McGeady's departure seemingly inevitable, Lennon wants McCourt to seize his moment to demonstrate he can go from being a bit-part player to someone with a major role to play in Celtic's domestic season, which begins at Inverness on Saturday.

"Paddy's fitness is improving and he got 90 minutes under his belt, but he has a wee breather now and again in games.

"He had a wee niggle with his hamstring so we need to monitor that, but there's no doubting his talent and we saw that again. I don't know if you can ever get him fully fit.

"Everyone has been trying that for the time he's been here, but he may never do it for a concerted period of time.

"Playing consistently a number of games, he hasn't done that since he's been here, but we're working towards that. If he keeps getting niggles, though, we have to pull him out.''

When given the opinion McCourt could influence games as much as McGeady, Lennon added: "I agree. He was playing against Michel Salgado [against Blackburn], who has been a world-class full-back, and given him a really tough time for long periods of the game.

"He's wonderful to watch. He's beautifully balanced and he's got great vision and great feet and that's why we decided to get him on a longer-term contract. He's pleased and we're pleased.

"They're different types of players. Paddy doesn't have Aiden's dynamic style of play, but he's got qualities that more than make up for that in his vision, touch and timing of passes. We'd all love to see Paddy play 25-30 games a season, but you have to take it week by week.''


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