Why Egan-Riley hopes Hibs stint and Burnley promotion bid can help him fulfil his goal after Manchester City glimpse

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CJ Egan-Riley will go into Hibs’ cinch Premiership clash with Celtic on Saturday with no fear, having already lined out for Manchester City in a Champions League clash at the Etihad as a teenager.

The then 19-year-old played the full 90 minutes against Portuguese cracks Sporting, realising a childhood dream and earning praise from Pep Guardiola for his performance. It would be one of just three appearances in sky blues but Egan-Riley insists it only made him hungrier as he spoke of being realistic.

"I was buzzing to play in the Champions League, it was something I grew up watching. The Champions League nights, the anthem, the stadium, everything, I was over the moon. To play for the team I grew up playing for, I loved it.

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"Two days before the gaffer asked me if I was ready to play and I didn’t really know what he was talking about, I thought he maybe meant ready for the bench, but then he told me I was starting. He put his confidence in me and I was ready to go,” Egan-Riley recalls.

CJ Egan-Riley speaks to the media ahead of Hibs' trip to CelticCJ Egan-Riley speaks to the media ahead of Hibs' trip to Celtic
CJ Egan-Riley speaks to the media ahead of Hibs' trip to Celtic

"He said, ‘there are no freebies, you have to earn it and you have earned it, I wouldn’t put you on the pitch if I didn’t believe in you’. I just went out and enjoyed it and played my football, it was great. I played right-back that night, I had a few tackles. Near the end of the game there was a bit where we were penned into the corner and we started playing one-twos around the back. I think I did a Cruyff turn, passed it to John Stones, he 'megged someone and we got out of it and the crowd started clapping.

"After the game Scott Carson who was in goals came to me and said, 'CJ, don't ever do that again' because we almost lost the ball, it was risky. The type of player I am, I don't like just getting rid of the ball for no reason, and there was an opportunity to play out and keep the ball and we did, but there was still that moment after the game,” he grins.

He also got gametime for parent club Burnley in an EFL Cup clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford – another memorable experience and another reason why walking out at a noisy Celtic Park holds no fear for him.

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“These are the games I came here to play in, against the best teams, where the crowds are, where there are eyes on you, and where you can really show what you can do. That’s what I want to do this weekend. I just want to play in the best stadiums with the best crowds and atmospheres. This will be one of them so I’m buzzing and looking forward to it,” he explains.

Goalkeeper Scott Carson has words with Egan-Riley while John Stones looks on after Manchester City's goalless draw with Sporting CPGoalkeeper Scott Carson has words with Egan-Riley while John Stones looks on after Manchester City's goalless draw with Sporting CP
Goalkeeper Scott Carson has words with Egan-Riley while John Stones looks on after Manchester City's goalless draw with Sporting CP

Speaking of buzzing for matches this weekend, Burnley have an FA Cup quarter-final trip to Manchester City. Will there be any divided loyalties there, or is a Hibs/Clarets double all he has eyes for?

“I’m backing us this weekend, for sure,” he says emphatically. “The Burnley one is going to be tough, going to City. I have links both sides but I want Burnley to go and do well and show what they’ve got. They’ve obviously done so well in the Championship this season. It’s going to be a big test.

“But I wish them all the best and I hope they do well. Sometimes being the underdogs can be the best way because there is less pressure on you. You still put pressure on yourself, but when there’s not a lot of outside noise and people don’t expect you to win, then you go there and show up and people are like, ‘oh my God, they can really play’, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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After that Champions League night at City, Egan-Riley might have hoped for, or even expected, more gametime under Guardiola. But the versatile 20-year-old is pragmatic about his time with the club.

Egan-Riley with Burnley boss Vincent KompanyEgan-Riley with Burnley boss Vincent Kompany
Egan-Riley with Burnley boss Vincent Kompany

"I did want to play more, and I thought I did well in the games I played in but I understood that at the same time, I had to be realistic: it was Manchester City, to start in that team with the best players in the world, the best manager in the world... even just having had the few experiences I did made me hungrier and I know the level of the best team and best players in the world, so my goal now is to try to get back to that and play there regularly."

He is starting every week at Hibs, most frequently used as a holding midfielder but he has had spells in defence as well. He doesn’t voice the cliché but you suspect he would play in any position if it meant getting a game every week.

"It's just what I needed,” he says. “I was at the stage of feeling ready to play every week and I felt this would be a great place to come and take learnings, playing good games, playing against different teams and there are a lot of eyes on Scottish football, especially in the big games. I just need to keep showing my quality and I'm sure I'll be good.”

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Egan-Riley is in regular contact with his parent club, who are keeping a close eye on his development at Easter Road. There are regular check-ups, and he is getting feedback from Clarets coaches on top of the guidance from the Hibs backroom team.

“I have spoken to some of the coaching staff there and they’re in contact with me, they watch the games, check up on me, it’s good. They’re still giving me little tips from what they’ve seen, things I can be doing, things I still need to work on and I’m like a sponge, I’m trying to take in everything I can and implement it to my game.”

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