Neil Lennon: ‘It felt like the Celtic Park I know. It was beautiful’
Neil Lennon paid tribute to his predecessors as Celtic celebrated their eighth successive title win with a 2-1 victory over Hearts, their opponents in this weekend’s Scottish Cup final.
He is, of course, included in that list having won the first three titles in this run. Ronny Deila and then Brendan Rodgers have maintained Celtic’s dominance with Lennon returning in February to help Celtic over the line. They have ended up finishing nine points ahead of Steven Gerrard’s Rangers in second place – the same gap as last season.
Rodgers’ name was not evoked yesterday at a packed Celtic Park but Lennon was given a huge reception when he came out last to receive the trophy from Celtic legend Paul McStay. The fans sang “One Neil Lennon” and he was given a bear hug by Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive.
Lennon then joined in the celebrations with his players, with Leigh Griffiths included in the group. The striker, who has not played since the end of last year due to personal problems, was also given a big ovation by Celtic fans.
But the loudest was reserved for Lennon, who had spoken out last week about an “entitled” breed of younger Celtic fans who expect endless success. He is also still a candidate for the permanent post having replaced Rodgers in February on an interim basis.
“It felt like the Celtic Park I know,” said Lennon. “It was beautiful, the atmosphere and everything today. The performance and connection between the players and fans rolled back the years for me.”
As for the fans chanting his name, he added: “It was a nice moment, so again you enjoy that. But it’s the whole trophy day, what it means. It was a very difficult period to negotiate from a manager’s point of view. And the players have been excellent, absolutely excellent.”
He added: “I’ve done my bit, but all the foundation, the platform and the players, that was down to Brendan. It’s eight in a row, so we have to think about Ronny Deila’s contribution, Brendan’s, my own. Of course, some of the tension has gone. We’ve got the big one.”
Dedryck Boyata’s move to Hertha Berlin was confirmed by the German club earlier in the afternoon. The defender, pictured inset, was present yesterday for the celebrations but was given a muted cheer when he went up to collect his medal.
“That announcement came out this afternoon and it’s a blow for us,” said Lennon. “He has been an outstanding player here and if that is the case [he has gone] then we wish him well.”
Lennon praised 16-year-old Karamoko Dembele, who made his Celtic debut yesterday having played for the Under-20 side when he was only 13. He proved why he is so highly rated with a lively performance after replacing Oli Burke at half-time.
“Karamoko is a little bit different,” said Lennon. “He has been training with us – but has obviously not got any first-team experience until now. I would doubt he would be in contention for a starting place next week – put it that way!”
Lennon revealed Burke picked up a knee problem. The on-loan West Bromwich Albion player will be assessed at the beginning of this week ahead of Saturday’s Scottish Cup final.