JOHN Collins already knows what it means to be a Scottish League Cup winning manager and he is determined to ensure Ronny Deila is next to add his name to that roll of honour.
Eight seasons ago, Collins led Hibernian to the silverware in memorable fashion with a thumping 5-1 win over Kilmarnock in the final at Hampden.
On the way to that success, he also enjoyed a home victory against Hearts in the quarter-finals. As the same opponents visit Parkhead tonight, Celtic assistant manager Collins is hopeful it can prove the launchpad for Deila’s first trophy success in charge of the Scottish champions.
“I’ve got very happy memories [of winning it with Hibs] but that was a few years ago now,” said Collins.
“The quarter-final against Hearts was only my second game as Hibs manager and it’s obviously a very special fixture. We want to win every trophy at Celtic this season. That’s the target and the League Cup is the first one we can win.”
Collins was at Tynecastle on Saturday to assess Hearts and left impressed with what he saw in their 5-1 Championship win over Cowdenbeath. He intends to ensure the Celtic players ignore the current second tier status of the Gorgie club.
“Hearts are playing good football, passing and moving, and they have good young players alongside some experienced ones,” added Collins. “Our players will go out onto the pitch in no doubt Hearts are a good team who have what I would call Premiership quality throughout.
“We’re at home and are favourites to win the game. But we have to turn up, be mentally switched on and ready to go. If your attitude is not right and you drop it down a gear, then there are always upsets in cup ties as you saw with Morton winning at Celtic Park this time last year.
“But I don’t think it will be difficult at all to motivate our players for this one. They know how important every match is here. Previously, we might have put weakened teams out in this cup but the manager has stated he wants to win every trophy domestically.”
Deila is clearly in no position to treat the League Cup lightly as he strives to convince Celtic supporters and the wider Scottish football fraternity of his capabilities in the job. His deputy Collins is certain the Norwegian can handle any scepticism currently being directed towards him.
“I’ve got no doubt he has the mental strength to take any criticism,” added Collins. “That goes with the job and Ronny can deal with that. You can slaughter him all the you want.
“He has settled in here 100 per cent and is very comfortable in the job now. He knows everything about what’s happening, he knows the players inside out, the staff and has got a feel for the club.
“He’s very intelligent, very motivated. He likes to win and hates to lose so they are good assets to have as Celtic manager.” Deila has placed great emphasis on the application, attitude and fitness of his players, some of whom appear more able than others to meet his demands.
Leigh Griffiths has become a fringe player in the first-team squad in recent weeks, prompting persistent speculation over a possible loan move to Hibs, but Collins insists the striker has not been singled out for special treatment.
“It’s not just Leigh, we give advice to all of the players,” he said. “If you want the most from your career, it’s about eating, sleeping and training. Three things that are key. There’s no point training fantastically well if you don’t eat and sleep well.
“They are professionals so we just keep trying to give them as much advice as possible. It’s all about knowledge and trying to get better.
“There’s been no resistance to the advice we have been giving them. Some have made more progress than others, but there’s been no resistance whatsoever. They are all getting fitter and sharper and hopefully that will continue.”
In pointing out a role model for the Celtic players, Collins has no hesitation in hailing captain Scott Brown’s influence and attitude. The midfielder, who took part in a playing squad revolt against Collins during his time as Hibs manager, has proved crucial to Celtic’s aspirations.
“He was an excellent player at Hibs and he is an excellent player now,” said Collins. “He has matured on the pitch and is calmer than when he was younger. He’s a huge player for us – you saw that in his first game back against Aberdeen. He’d been out for three months and came on the pitch and bossed the game in the first half.
“He has energy, power and skill and drives other people on. That’s his biggest strength – he hates getting beat and when you have players like that leading your team out, it’s great for a manager. Ideally you’d have more of them.
“But they don’t grow on trees, that type of player. We’ve got lots of good players but maybe none as vocal or with the drive that Scott’s got. Hopefully that will rub off on the other players, the way Scott goes about his business on the pitch and in the dressing room.”