Football/Soccer

Conor Hazard has sights on number one jersey for Celtic and Northern Ireland

Conor Hazard, who made his full debut for Northern Ireland against the USA on Sunday evening.

PATIENCE is a great quality for a goalkeeper to have, yet even that can only last so long.

Having waited almost three years between senior international appearances for Northern Ireland, Conor Hazard still isn't demanding the number one jersey – but he's certainly setting his sights on it, and definitely at his club Celtic.

The 23-year-old recently signed a contract extension at Parkhead until the summer of 2023 but he's determined to establish himself with the Bhoys before then:

"I think my main focus is I have to get game-time, that has to be one of the non-negotiables now if I'm going to take the next step in my career.

"With Celtic now the main aim is to get number one and I'll go back and do everything I can to nail that down. If that doesn't work then I'll look at the options in the summer."

There's still uncertainty about who will succeed Neil Lennon as Celtic boss, but Hazard insisted that never made him think twice about extending his stay, despite being dropped even though he won the Scottish Cup this term:

"I think football is an uncertain sport and things can change very, very quickly. I don't like to think negatively in that way, that if a new manager comes in he might not like me.

"I think of it as a new person to prove myself to, that I deserve to be in the team. That's my mindset, to be positive rather than negative."

Indeed while confidence is another prerequisite for a good goalkeeper, Hazard has the stats to back up his case:

"Yeah. I want to be number one here and with Celtic. It's in my personality to keep going until I get what I want.

"I have self-belief and I think I'm proving that with every opportunity I get. [With Celtic] I've played seven, I've four clean sheets and unbeaten in seven.

"With Northern Ireland, I was put in against the USA and I thought I did OK. I have the self-belief, I just need the opportunities to show it."

Making his full NI debut in Sunday's 2-1 friendly defeat against the USA, after a substitute appearance away to Costa Rica in June 2018 was in keeping with the unpredictable campaign Hazard has enjoyed/ endured.

"It has been a rollercoaster of a season for me. I wasn't involved at the start of the season so I wasn't able to go anywhere and everything was up in the air.

"I got an opportunity in the Europa League and I have to hold my hands up and thank 'Woodsy' (Stevie Woods) and Neil Lennon as well for giving me that opportunity and then trusting me in the cup final.

"I was over the moon and it was a big, big game and a huge opportunity for me.

'Then I was out of the team due to other factors and have now signed a new deal, so hopefully that's a good step moving forward."

Although he was the hero of the delayed 2020 Scottish Cup Final triumph against Hearts, saving two penalties in the shoot-out, Hazard acknowledged: "It's been a long season for everyone at the club. The disappointment of not winning the league and not sealing that 10-in-a-row, but we have to bounce back and move forward.

"There's still a big cup [2021 Scottish Cup] to play for and that's what we are putting our minds to now."

Before then, he's in the mix for a starting slot against Bulgaria in the second World Cup qualifier, after regular Bailey Peacock-Farrell was criticised for Italy's second goal in the campaign opener.

Typically, he offered words of support to his colleague/ rival: "Bailey is a strong, strong character and he knows himself what he could and can't do better in games. He's the type of guy who will bounce back even better."

As for himself, he's ready for the call, if and when it comes: "Things can change very quickly so you always have to be prepared for the unexpected.

"[Manager Ian Baraclough] told me I was going to get the game, which I was over the moon with, but I just prepared as if it was a normal game. I'm kind of a chilled out, relaxed guy, so nothing changes.

"I thought I did quite well, made a few crucial saves when I needed to, thought my distribution was very, very good…

"There haven't really been any discussions about it [the goalkeeper's jersey], it is just about coming into the camp and trying to prove that you deserve to be the number one.

"Bailey…you know he is going to have the first opportunity to play. After playing on Sunday I hope I've put myself at the forefront of the manager's mind."

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Football/Soccer