Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths was denied his first Scottish Cup winner’s medal last season when his side lost a penalty shoot-out to Championship side Rangers in the semi-final.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and the 25-year-old – who was yesterday named as Ladbrokes Player of the Year – was at least able to witness boyhood heroes Hibernian end that 114-year wait for success in the competition last month.
Griffiths had originally been instructed not to attend the showpiece event due to several previous unsavoury incidents, one of which had led to the player being charged under the Offensive Behaviour Act last year.
As it transpired, he was one of the Hibs fans who didn’t invade the Hampden pitch but he gave Celtic’s PR department, who had reversed the initial decision to ban him, palpitations by pretending that he had done.
“It was a good day out,” he said. “I managed to get there twice as a player with Hibs and failed on both occasions. To go and see your team win the Scottish Cup after such a long time was massive for me. Scoring at the end was the only way to do it.
“I got permission to go and Celtic were happy for me to go as long as I was sitting in the corporate area. I didn’t go on the pitch but I did wind her (Celtic PR person Rhona McDonald) up by sending a text saying I was the one sitting on the bar!”
Griffiths was delighted to cheer on Anthony Stokes, his former and possibly future strike partner at Parkhead, as he scored twice in the 3-2 victory over Rangers.
“Everybody said he was playing poorly for Hibs but you saw what he was capable of in the final,” said Griffiths. “He scored two goals and he had more chances himself than the whole Rangers team.
“I thought he was outstanding and he deserved his man of the match award. I played up front with him when I first came to the club. “
With new manager Brendan Rodgers renowned for deploying two players up front, that partnership may resume, although it is more likely that a new striker will be signed. Either way, Griffiths is almost certain to be one of the first names on Rodgers’ team sheet after a season in which he scored 40 goals, the first time a Celtic player achieved the feat since Henrik Larsson in 2004.
Surprisingly, though, the Scotland forward – who has harvested 60 goals from his last 69 starts for the club – claims he would be satisfied if he scores 20 next season.
“How do I top [last season]? I don’t think you can unless I score 50,” he said. “Would that be that realistic? Nah, not really. How many times did Henrik score over 40 in one season? Larsson is one of the greatest ever players to play for Celtic.
“I am thankful that I managed to hit 40 goals last season but my realistic target next season will be 20. If I get a consistent run in the team, and then start scoring goals, if I hit 20 I will be happy.
“Anything above 20 will be a bonus. It will be nice to get a consistent run in the team and help to achieve good things. If I get that then I’m confident I’ll score goals. It’ll be difficult to replicate last season but I will be trying my hardest to do it.”
Griffiths, who also received the PFA Scotland and Scottish Football Writers’ player of the year accolades, was the go-to guy for goals under Ronny Deila: no other Celtic player reached double figures in the Norwegian’s final campaign.
However, while the striker would be happy to play alongside a target man, he grew to enjoy the responsibility of being the lone striker.
“I liked that role last season,” he said. “I know the Celtic fans wanted to see two up front but I enjoyed it and, at times, it was like playing with three up front due to the amount of possession we had at home and the wingers we have. It was only really away from home it looked like it was only one up front but, regardless of what formation the manager wants to play, everyone will have to adapt.”
There has been a surge in season-ticket sales at Parkhead since Rodgers, pictured, was appointed but Griffiths believes that is not the only reason for the increased uptake. “It is not just the new managerial appointment,” he said. “With Rangers back in the league as well, that has boosted things. It will be good to have the Old Firm derbies back next year and everybody will be looking forward to that as well.”
However, Griffiths insisted he would not be looking for revenge after losing out to Mark Warburton’s side in April. “No, I think the score is 1-1,” he said, referring to Celtic’s League Cup semi-final win of 2015. “We played one of our worst games of the season and drew over 120 minutes. If we had taken our chances we’d have been through to a Scottish Cup final but penalties are a lottery.”
Griffiths also cheekily hinted that he believes Rangers might finish outside the top six in their first season in the Premiership. “Next season we will try to go for the clean sweep by trying to get at least three victories,” he said.