Anthony Stokes: Celtic must win the double
Now, according to Anthony Stokes, Celtic must also win Sunday’s Scottish Cup final if they are to turn a solid season into an outstanding one.
To do that, they will have to prolong the agony for Stokes’ former club Hibernian for one more year. The Irishman spent a season at Hibs, from August 2009, and he had only been there a week or two before realising how much the Scottish Cup means to a club which last won it in 1902. What is more, despite the relative brevity of his stay at Easter Road, Stokes credits that season under John Hughes as playing a crucial part in his development.
Having, by his own admission, gone off the rails during his time at Sunderland, Stokes regained some stability at Hibs – above all, simply by being selected regularly.
But, while he will always be thankful to his old club, and even hopes they win the cup one day, he does not intend to show them any sympathy at Hampden. There is a trophy to be won, and a season to be rounded off in style.
“I think we need to win the double to make it a great season,” Stokes said yesterday. “I think the run in Europe was brilliant and the lads were outstanding, but it’s about winning trophies at the end of the year for me. That’s what the fans want to see and I think we need to try and finish with a double.
“It’s hard to win any league at any level. This year it’s been made easier without Rangers, but it’s still difficult.
“The mentality at this club is to win trophies – it’s not acceptable to get to finals alone. There’s always pressure to get in the team, let alone to win trophies. Ask any player and that’s the type of club they want to be at.”
And, as Stokes was soon made aware, there is always pressure at Hibs when it comes to the Scottish Cup. “The fans talked about it all the time,” he added. “I remember at the start of the season people were mentioning it.
“I didn’t understand the situation when I went there. I knew the history of the club, but I didn’t know the whole thing about the hoodoo.
“To be fair, because I was at the club for a spell I would like to see them win the cup one day. I have lot of friends at Hibs. But I’m a Celtic supporter first and foremost, so even when I eventually leave here I’ll always want Celtic to win everything.
“Put it this way: if they’re ever in the final against anyone other than Celtic I’d like to see them win. It’s something which would mean a lot to the people there.
“It’s not just the fans who talk about it. When I signed, one of the first things people at the club said to me was ‘We need a good run in the cup’.
“I think I knew how important it was when I’d been there for just a couple of weeks. But this week we’re just focusing on ourselves and our main aim is to finish with a double.”
Having said that, Stokes was happy to pay further tribute to Hibs for their role in his career. He had just turned 21 when he signed on at Easter Road in autumn 2009, and the promise he had shown as a teenager was looking in danger. Not being picked regularly at Sunderland had played a part, but so had his lack of self-discipline.
“I will be the first one to say that I was a bit wild back then to say the least,” he said. “Listen, I have a kid now and things like that change you.
“I feel – I don’t know – much more settled up here. When you’re playing regularly in the side – that’s all you want. That’s why at the time I decided to go to Hibs because I just wanted to go back somewhere to play my football. I just missed playing football. That’s all it was. It’s a hard feeling to train six days a week and know there’s no game for six or seven months.
“That’s why I went to Hibs. I have to say, it was one of the best decisions I ever made in my career, because I’d a great spell there and obviously got the move here.
“But I loved my time with Hibs, I really enjoyed that season.
“When you’re playing week in, week out – and scoring goals – then you’re going to be happy.
“We had a great team during the time I was there. I was working under John Hughes and I have a lot of time for him.
“I just needed to get out and playing. I hadn’t been getting a game for over a year at Sunderland. That was the thinking behind it.
“I got back to a manager I got on well with, someone who had a lot of faith in me. I had the confidence I’d score goals for him and that’s what happened.
“The penny dropped for me probably when I went to Hibs, but even more so in the past year or two since I’ve had my kid. I’ve just settled down more – it just happens. It’s a natural progression in life.”
Having quickly learned how important the Scottish Cup is to Hibs, Stokes can imagine how desolate the club must have been last year after losing the final 5-1 to Hearts. He knows that a desire to get things right this year will be a strong motivating factor for manager Pat Fenlon and his squad, but he is convinced he and his team-mates will be just as driven in their desire to complete the double.
“Listen, any game Hibs lose against Hearts, the fans are going to be on the players’ case. Hibs are a massive club. They have a big rivalry with Hearts in Edinburgh, but for me Hibs are as big if not bigger.
“I can’t talk on those players’ behalf, but I’m sure they were gutted, as anyone would be. I don’t know if that’ll drive them on for this final, because they’re going to be motivated anyway.
“They’ve had a good run in the cup, having not won it for so long, but that doesn’t make a huge difference. Even for us, we have won cups and trophies, but we’ll be as motivated as they will be to get the win.”
Stokes close to new deal at Parkhead
ANTHONY Stokes is close to agreeing a new contract with Celtic that should keep him at the club for several more years. The striker has a year of his current deal still to run, but said yesterday that the fresh offer would be more than just another season’s extension.
Stokes, who joined Celtic from Hibernian in the summer of 2010, will probably not finalise the deal until after Sunday’s Scottish Cup final between his current and previous employers. “I think that’s unlikely,” the 24-year-old said yesterday. “To be fair, I wouldn’t want to get into that, because I want to focus on the final. It’s getting sorted out at the minute and I’m very confident we’ll come to an arrangement. I’m delighted, I love it here and like the lifestyle in Scotland.
“It’s a new contract I’m signing, and for a bit of security it will be longer than a year, I’m sure.”
Stokes added that he had never thought of looking elsewhere for a new deal, even at a time when there was speculation that he would leave Celtic Park at the end of his current contract. “I hadn’t thought about that, as I just wanted to stay here. Regardless of if anyone else came in I haven’t entertained that. I told my agent that I wanted a contract signed here as I’m happy at the club. I don’t think anyone could offer me much more than I have here.”