It was a day for grand feats and grand statements. Both were encapsulated in now permanent-manager-in-waiting Celtic manager Neil Lennon hailing his players as “immortals” for their clinching of an unprecedented treble treble thanks to their fraught 2-1 Scottish Cup final success over Hearts on the 52nd anniversary of the club’s most immortalised success that came with the 1967 European Cup triumph.
“They are immortal now,” said Lennon, who declared the day “one of the best of my life” as his side recovered from going a goal down to snare the trophy with an Odsonne Edouard double. “You can’t quantify how difficult that achievement is to pull off.
“In my career winning the treble was the Holy Grail. They have done it three years consecutively, Unbelievable and it is the 25th of May, quite synonymous we have two magnificent days in the history of the club on the same day.”
Lennon, who now has added two more trophies as interim since Brendan Rodgers left in February to the five he won as manager between 2010 and 2014, conceded to exasperation over the endeavours of his side in a largely forgettable opening period. That gave way to a second half when the encounter appeared to turn on Ryan Edwards’ 52nd minute deadlock breaker, only to then turn again as Edouard prove the matchwinner.
“You will never see it again so you can see the emotion and tension in the game,” he said of the club’s ninth straight domestic trophy success. “They had to stretch themselves to the limits to win and I think first half we were flat and pedestrian, playing it backwards. I did say to them Hearts may score but we will score, don’t panic and that is exactly the way it panned out. It almost gave them a jag and then the urgency and the response from them was fantastic and they deserved to win it.
We need to find a bit more urgency, purpose in our play and when Hearts did score, the reaction was fantastic. They dug deep and they played particularly well the last half hour under immense pressure; every team wants to beat them, every team raises their game to beat them. That’s 27 [straight] cup wins since Brendan came in, it is a remarkable feat and I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
A support divided over his elevation to permanent successor will now demand he converts a run of eight titles into the record 10. Lennon wanted to give no thought to that quest in the Hampden media room last night.
“Well, get the nine first,” the 47-year-old said. “That will be tough. If we get the nine we can start talking about 10. Again, the modern-day supporter wants to look into the future. I can’t. That’s something I’ve learned: stay in the present. I want to enjoy the moment, enjoy tonight. I want the players to revel and bask in the glory because it’s been hard work. That was tough today. I said before the game, it was their cup final too, their story to write, and they made it really, really difficult for us today.”
The negativity that has surrounded his return to the Celtic technical area Lennon was astute enough not to venture would have been swept away by yesterday’s crowning glory.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Football’s a fickle game sometimes. When your in the public eye as a coach and a manager, you’re going to get criticised. It comes with the territory and some of it can be very inappropriate. My professional integrity is staying intact the whole way through it and I’m very, very pleased with the outcome. I’m very pleased with my backroom staff who’ve helped me enormously in the past few months.” Ultimately, whatever the misgivings from the Celtic support, Lennon has helped himself earn a special status. On a day that the late Billy McNeill was honoured, Lennon becomes the only other man to be given two spells in charge of the club.