LEIGH Griffiths knows it is on the cards Celtic could meet Hibernian in the Scottish Cup final if both come through tough semi-final assignments this weekend. But, if given the choice, the striker has confessed he would rather not have to face his former club.
Hibs are the team he also supports of course and, it must be acknowledged, they have helped get him into trouble on occasion as well. On Wednesday came news that the player would have to stand trial for allegedly singing an offensive song in a pub before an Edinburgh derby last season.
Griffiths didn’t let the development unduly affect him later that evening when he scored a second-half hat-trick after coming on as substitute in the 4-1 win over Kilmarnock that keeps Celtic on course for the title.
It was the 24-year-old striker’s third hat-trick of his career – he scored one for Celtic last season in their 5-0 win over Inverness and also notched a three-goal haul for Hibs in a 4-2 win over Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup two years ago.
While he accepts that reaching the final would be something to celebrate for the club he loves, he is understandably anxious about potentially being cast as the one to cause Hibs yet more Scottish Cup final agony.
Griffiths endured the heartache himself in two consecutive finals in 2012 and 2013, against Hearts and Celtic respectively. He would prefer not being the architect of their downfall which is why, providing Celtic take care of Inverness the following day, he hopes Falkirk will have already done the business against his Easter Road favourites.
If they get there, it will be great for the club, but I’m just concentrating on doing my job for Celtic.Leigh Griffiths
Remarkably, Griffiths has never had to line up against Hibs – he missed out on games against them last season, and was playing for them before that, when on loan from Wolves. Spells with Livingston and Dundee in the lower tiers earlier in his career again meant that he avoided playing against the Easter Road side.
So he has not had to address such a situation before. It’s an intriguing dilemma for the professional athlete to have to wrestle with; they are supposed to be dead-eyed marksmen ready to shoot down whoever is in their sights, whether friend or foe, but emotion does have to register on occasion. Asked yesterday whether he would like a Celtic v Hibs final, Griffiths was quick and to the point with his reply: “Honest answer, no!”
He accepted that his own discomfort at the prospect of playing against his former team on such a stage was not the prime concern. “If they get there, it will be great for the club,” he said. “But I’m just concentrating on doing my job for Celtic.”
And what a job he is doing, even on those occasions when he is restricted to the bench at first. Griffiths came on after 59 minutes on Wednesday and by the end of the match, he was clutching the match ball after a hat-trick of the highest quality.
“It was not a bad night’s work,” he smiled. “It’s only my third hat-trick in senior football, so it’s decent.”
Griffiths hopes it might have helped underline to manager Ronny Deila that he deserves to start every game. In recent weeks, the Norwegian has chosen to rotate his strikers, meaning Griffiths, who also scored against Inverness last weekend, was left to kick his heels on the bench until shortly after half-time on Wednesday. He is now determined to feature for a continuous spell, starting with this weekend’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Hampden.
“I don’t need to prove anything,” said the 15-goal striker, when asked if his impact on Wednesday helped prove a point or two.
“I was brought to Celtic to score goals and I’ve started to do that since the turn of the year.
“I haven’t set any new targets, but I do want a run of games. I want to be starting every game from now until the end of the season and score as many goals as I can.
“The manager selects the team he thinks best to win the game and we have boys in the squad and coming from the bench. Myself, Anthony Stokes, Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven were all on the bench against Kilmarnock.”
He admits Deila was right to treat him the way he did in the opening weeks of the season, when as well as restricting him mostly to substitute appearances, if he used him at all, the manager questioned his lifestyle habits.
It was tough for Griffiths to accept since he had grown accustomed to playing at Hibs, where he was regarded as the main man.
“When I was at Hibs, I would have been the first name on the team-sheet given the goals I had scored,” he said. “But coming here, it’s a massive club and with the new manager coming into the club, he wanted his own philosophy.
“Playing one up front, you have to work hard and my fitness levels were not up to his standards.
“Since the turn of the year, my fitness levels have been good and I have been scoring the goals.
“Being top scorer now means that since I have had a talk with the manager, I have knuckled down and proved him wrong and JC [John Collins] wrong that obviously I deserve to be here.”
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