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On a night of frustration in front of goal for Celtic FC, one of the most pleasing aspects of his side's draw at home against AC Milan for manager Gordon Strachan must have been the performance of young defender Darren O'Dea.
With Gary Caldwell recovering from injury and Steven Pressley cup-tied, the 20-year-old Republic of Ireland centre-back was handed his first start in the UEFA Champions League and rewarded his manager's faith with an assured performance at heart of the defence alongside Stephen McManus. "It was an absolutely superb experience," O'Dea told uefa.com after the 0-0 draw at Celtic Park. "These are the players and the teams you want to be playing against. It was an honour for me to be on the same pitch as Paolo Maldini and as a defender it was fantastic to keep guys like [Alberto] Gilardino and Kaká relatively quiet. I wouldn't say that I was nervous, more excited really and I thought I did OK."
The one moment of uncertainty came midway through the first half when O'Dea made an unsuccessful attempt to step up and catch Gilardino offside and the young defender admitted he was relieved to see goalkeeper Artur Boruc divert the ball to safety with an outstretched boot. "It was a long three seconds all right," said O'Dea. "It was a massive relief and shows I still have a lot more to learn as a player. There's no hiding place when you're out there in front of 60,000 people. You have to grow up quickly and learn the game and I feel I am doing that although I still have a long way to go."
Hungry for more
O'Dea got a taste of UEFA Champions League action in the final group match against FC København but the experience of playing against the Italian giants has left him hungry for more and having kept a clean a sheet the young Irishman is still confident that Celtic are capable of getting a result at San Siro that will take them to the quarter-finals. He said: "We kept one of the best teams in the world quiet and that says something in itself. Our passing wasn't as good as it can be and we know we can improve as a team. However, we have kept the tie completely alive and we will go over to Milan confident we can get a result and win the tie."
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