Leigh Griffiths has admitted he still fears he could lose everything at Celtic despite being odds-on favourite to sweep the board with player of the year awards after a stunning season that has produced 38 goals.
The striker is still burdened by a final warning on his continued employment issued by the Parkhead club two years ago for his behaviour ahead of an Edinburgh derby.
Griffiths was caught on camera singing an offensive song about former Hearts player Rudi Skacel with Hibs supporters in the Roseburn Bar before going to Tynecastle where he was also involved in taunting home supporters.
There is no doubt that he has cleaned up his act since those sorry scenes but, as he prepares to go to Tynecastle on Saturday with the aim of clinching the title he remains fearful that one more indiscretion will lead to his dismissal.
Griffiths said: “It was well documented I went to Tynecastle as a supporter and my behaviour that day ensured I was down to my last warning at Celtic. I couldn’t afford to make any more mistakes and at that moment I knew I had to grow up.
“Of course that final warning was a huge scare. You don’t get the chance to play for Celtic that often and you have to make the most of an opportunity like that. I knew I had to knuckle down and get on with it. I have been rewarded with a five-year deal and I have kicked on. I want to keep kicking on. What I did, going to Tynecastle that day, wasn’t acceptable and that was spelled out to me.
“I knew it myself, regardless of being a Hibs fan I am a professional footballer first and foremost and you can’t be doing things like that.
“I have learned from it. I keep my head down these days.
“Listen, it was a daft thing to do, I lost my mind for 24 hours. I should have watched the game in the house, I shouldn’t have been anywhere near Tynecastle that day but as long as you learn from your mistakes and I think I have.
“I wanted to see my team win but ultimately it almost cost me my job.”
It was a sobering moment for Griffiths, who opted to knuckle down. He finished last season in great form and has been even better this term leading to his nomination for PFA Scotland Player of the Year and the likelihood he will win the Football Writers’ award too.
Indeed, Celtic might not be within touching distance of five successive titles had it not been for Griffiths.
He said: “I have not looked back since. I have concentrated on my football and I am reaping the rewards of that.
“I am scoring goals and I am reaping individual awards like I did at the Celtic player of the year awards on Sunday there.
“To be nominated now for this PFA award for having such a good season is great. But I can’t rest on what I have done this season. I want to keep pushing on and striving to keep breaking my own records.”
The Scotland striker is fully expecting a barrage of abuse from the Hearts supporters on Saturday as Celtic effectively aim to close out the title with victory, given their vastly superior goal difference.
However, there is little doubt he would certainly enjoy the moment if Celtic secure the win they want.
He said: “It would be nice to win it at Tynecastle. But if it’s not this week then next Sunday in front of our own fans would be great too. We just want to get it all wrapped up. We’re not anxious in any way because we know it’s going to come. I’ll get it in the neck from Hearts fans until the day I die. It’s just one of those things.
“I speak to Hearts fans outside of football and they are always pretty decent. They ask me how I am doing but I know for 90 minutes I am hated. It’s just part and parcel of football. At the end of the day I have a job to do and right now that’s trying to score goals for Celtic and help my team get all three points.
“When you are trying to help the team get it over the line, you want to try to rub it into them so there’s always added motivation.
“I do love playing at Tynecastle though, it’s always a good atmosphere, regardless of what’s been happening with my background in the past. It’s a hostile atmosphere and these are the games you want to play in.
“Robbie Neilson has done a great job there this season and Hearts will have their own agenda. To come up from the Championship to be fighting for second place just shows you the job he has done there.”