IT MAY now be a case of when, rather than if, Celtic retain the league title this season. But Adam Rooney is determined to ensure the “when” is not 10 May at Pittodrie.
The Aberdeen striker’s outstanding personal campaign was recognised yesterday when he was announced as one of the four nominees for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award, along with Celtic pair Virgil van Dijk and Stefan Johansen and Dundee striker Greg Stewart.
Rooney’s prolific goalscoring has played a huge part in Aberdeen ensuring the Scottish Premiership has actually had a title race worthy of the description.
They are now eight points behind the champions going into the post-split fixtures, opening the possibility of Celtic crossing the finishing line with a victory in that 10 May meeting in Aberdeen.
“You can say that’s a nightmare scenario for us,” said Rooney. “But if they are going to win it, they are going to win it.
“Obviously, though, we wouldn’t like to see them celebrating on our patch because of the season we have had. We have pushed them close enough this year, so it wouldn’t be nice to watch that.
“You don’t want to see other teams celebrating. You want to be the ones celebrating, particularly at home. I wouldn’t like it for our fans so we just have to make sure that, on the day, we win the game.”
Aberdeen have lost all three league meetings against Celtic so far this season, nine points which have clearly had the most telling impact at the top of the table.
“I don’t think we’ve lost to anyone other than Celtic in the league since October, which is such a great achievement,” reflected Rooney.
“The big disappointment has been in the cups – losing to Dundee in the Scottish Cup when we dominated the game and to Dundee United in the League Cup semi-final when we had a goal disallowed which, looking back, should have stood.
“Take those out, and we’ve been very consistent. Even against Celtic when we were tonked 4-0 there in the end, it was more down to us trying to chase the game. We felt we had to get something that day.
“The 2-1 defeat at home before that was a difficult one. They scored in the last minute after the ball went out for a corner that was never a corner. That was obviously a massive turning point. But the consistency we have shown against everyone else has been great.
“We are only eight points behind Celtic at this stage of the season when most teams would expect to be at least 30 points behind them.
“It’s just down to the job (manager) Derek McInnes and his assistant Tony Docherty have done. They have brought a lot of quality into the squad.
“There also wasn’t a huge turnover of players last summer. The club managed to get most of them tied up on two- or three-year deals. There is stability there now and we keep adding quality, like Kenny McLean in January and Graeme Shinnie on a pre-contract, so you can see the club is ambitious. If we add another couple to the squad we have this summer, then I’m sure we can keep improving.
“If we can even be a few points closer again this time next year, and Celtic drop off, we could be there or thereabouts for the title.”
Rooney is on course to become the first Aberdeen player to score 30 goals in a season since Joe Harper achieved the feat in 1979. Harper is one of only five strikers ever to breach the 30-goal barrier for the Pittodrie club.
Such has been Rooney’s deadliness in front of goal this season, the club’s former captain and manager Willie Miller has even compared the 27-year-old Irishman with the legendary Harper.
“He must have been drunk when he said that!” laughed Rooney. “I think Barry Robson also compared me to Ally McCoist and he got stick for that.
“Terry Butcher used to compare me to Ian Rush when I was at Inverness and I got stick for that too. I think I’ve been compared to everyone apart from Gary Doherty, who is the only one I look like!
“My main thing has always been to try and score goals and this season has been going very well for me. I’m feeling very confident in how I’m playing and I just want to keep scoring and adding something to the team. I’ll keep working hard and see how it goes.
“The season has gone really well for me personally and the club have had a very good season. My target is to get as many goals as possible and I’m only three away from 30 now, so it would be nice to get there. Obviously I want as many as possible.
“I wasn’t aware until you told me that I’d only be the sixth player in Aberdeen’s history to do it – so thanks for the pressure! It would obviously be a great accolade to get.
“Confidence has been high. I managed to get a few goals in the Europa League at the start of the season and it’s just gone from there. When you get a few early in the season, it helps a striker because that’s what you thrive on.
“The team have dominated a lot of games this season and created a lot of chances, so I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right place to get on the end of them.
“I’ve got no regrets about coming back to Scottish football. Aberdeen is a massive club. I probably underestimated just how big it was when I first arrived. I was surprised when I saw the size of the support and the numbers we had at the League Cup final last season and other games. It’s incredible.”
A former under-21 international, Rooney also hopes his form might earn him a first call into the Irish senior squad after he was watched recently by manager Martin O’Neill’s assistant, Roy Keane.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone at the FAI,” he said. “But I’m no different to anyone in that I’d like to play for my country.
“If I do well with Aberdeen then you never know what happens in the future. But the main thing is do well for your club. If it doesn’t happen, then I’ll just keep supporting my country.
“Players like Anthony Stokes have been in the squad while playing in Scotland so I don’t think the league is a barrier. It’s about how you are performing.”
Player of the year
Virgil van Dijk (Celtic)
Stefan Johansen (Celtic)
Adam Rooney (Aberdeen)
Greg Stewart (Dundee)
Young player of the year
Ryan Christie (Inverness CT)
Jason Denayer (Celtic)
Sam Nicholson (Hearts)
Jamie Walker (Hearts)