Neil Lennon’s Barca-beating experience is ‘massive’ for Hibs

Hibs striker James Keatings is relishing teaming up with Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS

Hibs striker James Keatings is relishing teaming up with Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS

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The Scottish Cup win may take some bettering but scoring in Europe or pulling off the kind of shock he has witnessed others manage in the past would certainly come close to equalling that feeling, according to Hibernian striker James Keatings.

And, the 24-year-old, who weighed in with a 12-goal return despite seeing his playing opportunities limited last term, feels that Neil Lennon is the ideal gaffer to help them in their Europa League qualifying quest.

The draw will be made tomorrow, with Keatings admitting he will be an interested follower and quickly googling whoever they are pitted against, but regardless who comes out the hat, he says Hibs have to believe they can progress.

“We won the Scottish Cup final and we have proven we were good enough and we deserve to be there. It’s a massive bonus for the club and a massive thing for all of us to look forward to.”

The fact they now have a man at the helm who made it to the UEFA Cup final as a player and guided Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League as a manager, galvanises things further, says Keatings, who was in the stands as Neil Lennon’s Celtic engineered a shock 2-1 victory over Catalan superstars in 2012.

“That experience is massive. He has taken a team to the last 16 of the Champions League and beaten Barcelona so he has been there and done it and he will be able to tell us what it will feel like and how to affect it and he will have his own way of wanting to play against certain teams.”

It can also use those examples as an inspiration. Remembering the noise and the emotion as Tony Watt slotted away Celtic’s winner against Barcelona that night, Keatings now wants to sample a similar high himself.

“The Barcelona game is the massive stand out. I was at the game and it was amazing what the club achieved that day. It was great. I was there with a few of my friends. You always want to see the best players playing and that was a tremendous atmosphere. The atmosphere all the way through the game and then after Tony’s goal, it was an absolute joy sitting there as a supporter. I was buzzing but as a player on that pitch, the feelings they must have had… I can only imagine the feeling Tony must have had when he scored.

“Players and fans, you look at the European nights and you see other clubs doing it and enjoying those occasions and you want to do the same and now we have the chance. To score a European goal would mean everything.

“Obviously, winning the Scottish Cup was massive for me and something I’d dreamed about since I was a little boy and watching my heroes lift it, but to get a European goal would really mean a lot as well.

“We are going to try to make an impact and make the country and, more importantly, the club proud.”

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