Neil Lennon on chance for Scottish football first in month of 20-year Celtic anniversary and Hearts' cup final threat

It was December 2000 that Neil Lennon rocked up at Celtic.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon holds the Scottish Cup aloft after the club completed the treble treble with the 2019 final win over Sunday's opponents' Hearts. (Photo by SNSGroup/Alan Harvey)

It boggles the Irishman’s mind that the covid-delayed Scottish Cup final now provides him with the chance to mark the 20-year anniversary by leaving the ultimate indelible mark on his club and the game in this country.

Across Celtic’s ruinous two-month form slump from they have only recently emerged, the prospects of still being in post now seemed in grave doubt. The unexpected results then that have weakened the all-consuming drive for a 10th straight title - coupled with Rangers’ shock League Cup exit in midweek - makes him keenly alert to how difficult it is to win any trophy, never mind a 12th straight domestic competition.

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And his wariness of the dangers Hearts pose to his hopes of leading the club to an unprecedented quadruple treble leave him reluctant to consider what the desired outcome at Hampden would mean for him personally. Even though capturing the trophy on Sunday would make him the first man in the annals of the Scottish game to win a treble both as a player and manager.

“It’s been a fantastic 20 years. I had a spell away, but my involvement has just been amazing,” Lennon said. “Lows and highs. But you have to be in it to win and you have to be around it and involved. It’s been a blessing and a real privilege. You couldn’t have envisaged how it would pan out. It’s been incredible. I don’t take it lightly. We work tirelessly to maintain the successful standards the club has set. It’s been a wonderful 20 years. I don’t know many championships we have won in that period. Maybe 15 out of 20? It’s unbelievable and I don’t want it to end. I want it to keep going. We are very driven and galvanised. We’re being tested at the minute, but that can only be a good thing as well.

“It would mean a helluva lot [to complete the quadruple treble]. A helluva lot. But again it’s not about me. I’m only as good as the team and my players and they have been amazing, they’ve been fantastic. Yes we have had a tough time of it but you can see all around Europe that there is nothing normal about this season and we have to be wary of making sure that we are at our best for the game coming up. If we’re not right then anything can happen.

“It would be hard for me to put into words, really [if I became the first man to win a treble as a player and manager]. Ask me on Sunday if I’ve achieved it. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. All the talk and all the speculation is about quadruple trebles but we have to win a cup final. We have to take the game in isolation and forget about all the other competitions we’re in or have been involved in. We need to fully focus on Sunday. If we prevail then I’ll let you know how I feel after that.”

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