Neil Lennon finally felt justified as a Celtic manager as his team hammered Kilmarnock 6-0 on Saturday to finally seal the Scottish League title.
For weeks now it has been inevitable that Celtic would win their first championship in four years, but Lennon could barely contain his excitement after the big win at Rugby Park.
He described it as the greatest day of his professional life and claimed afterwards that he can finally call himself a real Celtic manager after goals from Charlie Mulgrew, Gary Hooper (two each), Joe Ledley and Glenn Loovens in the 6-0 win.
“It is the greatest moment of my professional life,” said Lennon, even though Celtic will have to wait to receive the trophy. “It doesn’t get much better than this.
“I am so proud. It is hard to put into words what you go through. Today was the epitome of the team; class, pace and there was a swagger about them.
“It looked for a couple of weeks as if they were starting to tire mentally, but they found their energy and mojo today and I couldn’t be more happy for them, they are the ones who did it.
“They are babies in terms of football but they have come in for, I think, unjustified criticism. Georgios Samaras is the oldest player in the team at 27 so that says a lot about their youth.
“There is, at times, a naivety about them which I comprehend but to win the championship after 33 games is a fantastic achievement. It is a great day for the club and a great day for the supporters.”
Lennon also admitted it was a great day for him as a manager – and a relief.
He added, “When you are a player you are part of a team. I had Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton, Stiliyan Petrov, Paul Lambert, Johan Mjallby and Alan Thompson to lean on.
“When you are a manager it is a lonely job, you have to make the decisions. You get criticized for them, you get praised for them but you have to keep the middle ground, have to keep a level head.
“I am only young in this job, it’s only my second full season, it’s a huge job with huge expectations but I fee vindicated now. I felt as if I was on probation. Now I feel the Celtic manager.
“I was walking behind Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan, Wim Jansen, Davie Hay, Billy McNeill and Mr. Stein, and now I can step out from behind them and walk alongside them and that is a fantastic feeling for me.
“You are judged on championships, ultimately. Cups aren’t enough. I came here in 2000 and we had a great time, winning championships.
“I wouldn’t say we took it for granted but when you look back on your career, you probably don’t appreciate it until you lost it then you realize what a great achievement it was.”
Goal hero Mulgrew paid tribute to the Celtic fans afterwards. “It was great,” said the defender.
“Credit has to go to the full team for the way we started, it was high tempo and we were lucky to get the goal and we pushed on from there.
“The crowd were magnificent again. I know I have said it so many times but they genuinely were the 12th man today, the way they sang and it filtered onto the pitch.”
Some pundits have suggested the gloss has been taken off Celtic’s title win by the financial problems at Rangers, but striker Kris Commons disagreed after the win at Kilmarnock when he was asked if his team had won the league by default.
“Not at all – and we’re looking to increase our winning margin,” said Commons. “The 10-point deduction for Rangers has made it wide open between first and second. Now we want to win the Double and maintain this form.
“The championship is everything we’ve been working towards since pre-season. To cap it off with a performance like that and win in style against Kilmarnock was fantastic.
“All eyes are now on Hearts in the semifinal of the Scottish Cup on Saturday. It’s the next big game for us and we can’t wait. Hopefully we can celebrate with a double at the end of the season.”
Like Mulgrew, Commons paid tribute to the Hoops fans. He said, “You can see what this means to them. We’ll do a helluva lot of celebrating before we get back in training on Monday with all eyes on the cup semifinal.”
Richard Dunne has opted not to travel to America to continue his recovery from a recent shoulder injury and will instead step up his rehab at Aston Villa.
The Irish defender underwent surgery after fracturing a collarbone and had been expected to travel to the Cleveland Browns, also owned by Villa chief Randy Lerner, for treatment.
“Richard didn’t go because he’s got a lot of football rehab to do and he would not get it out there, so we decided against it because he’s making quite good progress,” said Villa manager Alex McLeish.
“I think he’s kind of on schedule for the repair of the break, so we have to adhere to that. We can’t rush him back. But he’s training well.
“He’s not training with the team at the moment -- he’s training on his own but he feels good. He’s doing some running and strength work, strengthening of the shoulder area with light weights and things like that.”
Dunne remains on target to make a Premier League return with Villa ahead of the European Championships in Poland this summer.
Teenager Craig Forrester scored a wonder goal as St. Patrick’s Athletic hammered league champions Shamrock Rovers 5-1 in the Dublin derby on Friday night. Forrester and Christy Fagan scored two goals each as Rovers lost in the league for the first time this season.
Sligo went top of the table thanks to a 2-1 win over Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds with Drogheda now joint second after a 1-0 victory at Monaghan United.
Dinny Corcoran scored Bohemian’s first goal of the season as they beat Cork City 1-0 at Dalymount Park. Derry drew 0-0 with UCD and Dundalk and Shelbourne shared the spoils at Oriel Park.
WOLVES winger Stephen Hunt expects to return to training in a fortnight after more surgery on a persistent groin injury . . .
IRELAND’S ladies lost a vital European Championship qualifier 2-0 to Scotland in Edinburgh last week . . .
REPORTS in England say Southampton want to buy Irish striker Kevin Doyle from Wolves in the summer for a fee in the region of $7 million.
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