‘It is near impossible to win the treble’ insists realist Neil Lennon

WITHIN six months of signing for Celtic as a player, Neil Lennon had three winners’ medals in his hands. It is only now, more than a decade later, that he fully appreciates the significance of his first campaign with the club.

The domestic ‘treble’ of league championship, Scottish Cup and League Cup achieved in Martin O’Neill’s first season as manager back in 2000-01 was the most recent of only three in the club’s history, the iconic figure of Jock Stein having delivered it on the first two occasions.

Rangers have won seven trebles since the feat first became possible with the League Cup’s inception 66 years ago, the last time under Alex McLeish in 2003, and it is around this time of the season that talk inevitably turns to whether one club can win the lot.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

With Celtic now top of the SPL and with a League Cup semi-final against Falkirk at the end of this month, they begin their defence of the Scottish Cup at Peterhead tomorrow fancied by many to triumph in all three competitions.

But Lennon is dismissive of such talk, insisting it is likely to prove beyond his team as it has many others.

“It’s near enough impossible to win the treble,” said Lennon. “People think it’s easy to do it in Scotland when you are with one of the two big clubs but it’s not. Winning games is hard and winning trophies and competitions is harder. You have to be at your best for more or less every game.

“It’s a special thing when a treble happens. We did it in my first season here and I probably didn’t take it all in at the time. Looking back now, I realise what a great achievement that was. It’s not in my mind this season.”

Lennon is all too aware of the unexpected pitfalls which can see anticipated shots at silverware disintegrate. Tommorow will mark six years to the day since Lennon was part of the Celtic team defeated 2-1 at Clyde in one of the Scottish Cup’s biggest upsets of recent years, while one of his first games as manager of the club was the stunning 2-0 semi-final loss to Ross County at Hampden in April 2010.

“You always get reminded of cup giant killings at this time of the year,” said Lennon. “It’s the same with any big club. It is a reminder. It is an incentive for the players to make sure that doesn’t happen to them this time.

“The team is very motivated at the moment and on good form. We want to maintain that. We are the holders of this competition and we got a great feeling from winning it. We want that again.”

If Celtic were to slip up against a Peterhead side currently second bottom of the Third Division, it would surely eclipse any other shock result the old tournament has ever produced. Despite the obvious gulf between the teams, however, Lennon will afford maximum respect to opponents managed by former Celtic player and youth team coach Jim McInally.

“Jim’s a very good friend of mine and I’ve known him for a long time now,” added Lennon. “He was here at Celtic as a coach when I first came as a player and we’ve stayed in touch over the years, even when we both left.

“We kept in regular contact and I know he was delighted when the draw came out. He will be doing his best to beat us, that’s his job at the end of the day. He is a great guy. I have been on a few coaching courses with him as well. We both have the same sort of ideas on the game. In another time, I wouldn’t mind Jim working with us here at some stage.

“We will make some changes for this game, but not too many. We are the holders and we can’t take Peterhead lightly. I’ve never been there before but I gather the pitch is in good condition. I’ve not see the stadium, but we will be prepared for any eventuality, whether that’s adverse weather conditions or whatever. We will have a strong team out on the day.”

It will not include top scorer Gary Hooper, who is ruled out with a groin strain, while any plans to hand Mohamed Bangura a rare starting appearance have been scuppered by a knee injury

But there could be a return to the starting line-up for Emilio Izaguirre, following the left-back’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Dunfermline on Monday, while defender Kelvin Wilson and winger Paddy McCourt are others in contention for the Balmoor assignment.