Jonny Hayes has urged critics to stop knocking the manner in which Celtic completed a treble treble and asked them to remember that players aren’t robots.
He estimated Celtic have played “something like 180 games” in the past three seasons. In fact, it is 183 matches all told.
Hayes, pictured, has not been around for all of them, having signed after the first treble. Indeed, he has played far less than he would have liked due to injury and then falling out of the picture under Brendan Rodgers.
But he battled back and has found a new lease of life under Neil Lennon, who has played Hayes in nine of his 11 matches in charge since returning in February.
Hayes has been a useful stand-in for Kieran Tierney, who has struggled recently with a hip injury.
Hayes might not want the season to stop but others such as Callum McGregor, who has played 67 times in the current campaign for club and country, are exhibiting signs of fatigue.
Lennon’s reputation has suffered because such tiredness has been interpreted as a loss of brio brought on by the managerial change. F
ortunately for Lennon, this is not a view shared by Peter Lawwell and the Celtic board, who awarded Lennon a permanent contract following Saturday’s Scottish Cup final win over Hearts.
Like all his team-mates, Hayes is delighted for Lennon.
“From a selfish point of view, he’s been great for me,” he said. “He’s been brilliant for the team. His enthusiasm is infectious and it’s great to have him around the place.
“He probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves. We’ve played something like 180 games in the last three seasons and you don’t get to take your foot off the gas so there is a bit of fatigue in our dressing room.
“As a result, some of our performances have probably looked a little lethargic and the manager has been getting the blame for that, but when we haven’t been up to scratch – like in the recent defeat by Rangers at Ibrox – then it’s been the players who have to shoulder the responsibility for the way we sat off the play.
“The way we’ve trained has been identical to the successful methods established by Brendan. The new gaffer has continued with that so any blame for the fact we’ve not been winning games 3-0 or 4-0 can be put down to the fact that some players – like Kieran, Callum McGregor and James Forrest – have been playing continuously for three years.
“Most of us get three weeks off – they get less – and then we’re back in for pre-season training and Champions League qualifiers. It’s a big ask and, especially towards the end of each season, fatigue does show.
“We’re not robots. People think because we win trophy after trophy that you can just go out and pummel Livingston – we got stick for a 0-0 draw – but you just can’t do that every week.”
Hayes is delighted to be playing at all after a setback early in his Parkhead career when breaking a leg in a game against Dundee in December 2017.
But he was thrilled to pick up a winner’s medal on Saturday as he prepares for another fight for first-team football next season.
“That’s part and parcel of being at a big football club,” he said. “We have the best team in the league and the best squad as well.
“Our rivals will try to close that gap and I’ve been in that situation at Aberdeen where the shoe is on the other foot and we were trying to get better every season in order to catch Brendan’s team. “So now we need to improve because everyone else will and, at Celtic, trophies are expected.”