THE most venerable trophy in Scottish football should never be regarded as merely a consolation prize. So the joyful demeanour of the Celtic players as they collected the Scottish Cup at on Saturday was a welcome illustration of how significant the competition remains in this country.
With their English counterparts having severely diminished the relevance and prestige of the FA Cup by scheduling it before the end of their domestic season, the Scottish Football Association deserves credit for preserving the stand-alone stature of their own showpiece occasion.
• The Scottish Cup Final in pictures
But in the midst of the jubilant celebrations at one end of the rain-soaked National Stadium, and the dismay of the Motherwell supporters at the other, it was nonetheless impossible to avoid at least a hint of anti-climax about proceedings.
The absence of the sunshine many of us instinctively associate with cup final day did not help, while the match itself was simply too one-sided for lengthy spells to provide any sustained sense of drama and excitement.
It was the reaction of Neil Lennon to winning his first trophy as Celtic manager, however, which delivered the clearest indication that even such a comprehensive success was less than completely fulfilling. "I've got conflicting feelings," said Lennon. "It's not enough, not what I wanted from the season. We are disappointed not to have won the league, but we have made progress."
On further reflection, Lennon may find it possible to take a greater sense of pride from his breakthrough triumph at Hampden. For in extending Celtic's record tally of Scottish Cup wins to 35 and picking up the trophy for the first time since his last match as a player for the club four years ago, Lennon finally laid to rest the notion he could not win a match of genuine significance as their manager.
After a season of unprecedented turbulence and trauma, most of it outwith the playing field, Lennon has something tangible to show for his efforts. His despair at missing out on the Scottish Premier League title by a point to Rangers may linger throughout the close season but Lennon should take more than a little solace from the Scottish Cup triumph.
It was, after all, not simply about Saturday's ultimately facile defeat of a disappointing Motherwell side. The road to the final had taken Celtic to both Ibrox and Inverness, difficult assignments which were negotiated with a combination of style and resilience. Lennon's men are worthy winners of their club's first silverware since March 2009, the victory also providing an added bonus of having to play just one qualifying round in the Uefa Europa League next season. Motherwell, who miss out on European football for the first time in four years, never appeared likely to emulate the heroics of the previous Fir Park side to lift the trophy back in 1991. Manager Stuart McCall's decision to try and suffocate Celtic across the middle of the pitch, deploying Steven Hammell as an extra central midfielder and leaving John Sutton as a lone striker, did not pay off.
Scott Brown and Ki Sung Yeung, assisted by the intelligent movement of Kris Commons, were able to shake off the terrier-like attentions of Steve Jennings and Keith Lasley to dominate possession for Celtic.
From the moment Gary Hooper flicked a Commons cross against Motherwell goalkeeper Darren Randolph's crossbar in the second minute, Celtic were generally in the ascendancy on a slick and difficult playing surface. McCall's men appeared nervy, their passing awry as they struggled to retain any worthwhile possession in the face of Celtic's relentless pressing.
The conditions were perhaps a mitigating factor in some of the injudicious challenges made by both sides in a less than stellar first half. Referee Calum Murray, who did not emerge with great distinction from his first Scottish Cup Final, could easily have shown red rather than yellow to both Celtic defender Daniel Majstorovic and Motherwell midfielder Lasley for stud-high fouls on Sutton and Glenn Loovens respectively in the opening 15 minutes.
Further offences from both men, Majstorovic bizarrely and needlessly handling the ball while Lasley committed another reckless challenge on Ki, were then allowed to pass without a second yellow card. Murray's most mystifying error, however, came two minutes before the interval when he contrived to miss a blatant handball by Motherwell captain Stephen Craigan on the edge of his own penalty area.
Celtic's sense of injustice was diluted by the fact they had already taken the lead by that stage, courtesy of Ki's magnificent 32nd minute goal. Collecting the ball from Commons, the South Korean guided a fierce left-foot shot from 25 yards beyond the right hand of the despairing of Randolph.
Motherwell, barely seen as an attacking force, almost levelled in equally spectacular fashion four minutes later when Gavin Gunning ventured forward from left-back to smash a thunderous left-foot strike of his own against the crossbar from long range.
The 7-1 underdogs retained hope as long as they trailed by just one goal but were undermined by their failure to involve Jamie Murphy in much of their work, leaving Sutton far too isolated in attack. Chris Humphrey did pose the occasional problem for Celtic down the right, the Motherwell winger forcing Fraser Forster into action with a right foot volley early in the second half.
McCall introduced Francis Jeffers for Hammell in the 73rd minute but before his introduction of a second striker could have any effect, Celtic made it 2-0 two minutes later. Commons was again the instigator, holding the ball up and feeding Mark Wilson for a right foot shot which may not have troubled Randolph had the hapless Craigan not stuck out a boot to divert the ball into his own net.
Craigan's miserable afternoon was completed two minutes from time when his foul on Hooper conceded the free-kick which Charlie Mulgrew venomously drove beyond a poorly positioned defensive wall and high beyond Randolph's right hand into the roof of the net. For Celtic, the celebrations could begin in earnest. For Neil Lennon, consolation came in tandem with vindication.
Kris Commons (Celtic)
Although ostensibly deployed on the right of Celtic's midfield, Commons enjoyed a roving commission at Hampden and used it to good effect. His smart movement and game intelligence posed constant problems for Motherwell. The Scotland winger was instrumental in the build up to Celtic's first two goals and deserved the standing ovation he received from the Celtic support when he was replaced by James Forrest eight minutes from time.
HOW THEY RATED AT HAMPDEN
Goalkeeper had little or no chance to stop any of the three goals, and had an excellent save from Hooper early in second half with the score at 1-0 to keep his team in the game. 6/10
Played at right-back and showed again he is more effective in his usual midfield role. 5/10
Unfortunate to score own goal with cruel deflection, and also gave away free-kick which resulted in Celtic's third goal. Booked in second half, having miraculously escaped caution for deliberate handball in first. 5/10
Central defender was one of his team's most dependable performers and prevented a probable goal when clearing a Commons pass to Hooper. 6/10
Played out of position in midfield in tactical switch which failed to pay off. Subbed for Jeffers late on as team switched to 4-4-2 formation. 5/10
His speed was a threat at times, but lack of control too often let him down. 5/10
Beavered away in the centre of the park to try and keep his team in the match. Booked early in game for foul on Loovens and looked at risk of picking up a second yellow. 6/10
Holding midfielder had his hands full trying to keep Brown and Ki at bay. Almost got to Craigan own goal in time to clear the danger but the ball had crossed the line by the time he reached it. 6/10
Superb shot which came back off the crossbar was left-back's most visible contribution, but he also worked hard to try to nullify threat of Commons and Wilson. 6/10
Has been his club's most impressive performer over last couple of months, but looked overawed by the big occasion and failed to make an impact. 5/10
Found it hard to get involved as lone front man and rarely worried Celtic defence. 5/10
On for last 20 minutes to assist Sutton up front, but had little or no chance to turn the tide.
Winger could do nothing in last ten minutes to break down Celtic defence.
Beaten by Gunning shot but otherwise looked comfortable and had very little to do. 6/10
Solid in defence, adventurous going forward, and produced decisive second goal: another impressive outing. 8/10
A quiet game for the centre-half, who helped snuff out what threat Motherwell had to offer up front. 6/10
Booked very early for foul on Sutton and was lucky not to get second yellow for deliberate hand-ball just before half-time. 6/10
Player of the season was again on fine form, and like fellow full-back Wilson was just as good when joining in the attack. 8/10
The midfielder was yet again the most impressive player on the pitch and played a crucial role in breaking Motherwell down. Lively, inventive and an inspiration to his team-mates. 8/10
Captain made significant contribution to Celtic gaining a midfield stranglehold. Booked in first half for foul on Hammell. 7/10
Spectacular goal set Celtic on the path to victory, but at times was too passive. Booked in first half for foul on Lasley. 6/10
Scored excellent goal direct from free-kick to seal Celtic's win, and linked well with front men. 7/10
Enthusiastic contribution from the striker was also largely ineffectual. Became first Celtic player to be substituted after running out of steam. 6/10
Was just offside in opening minute when sending volley crashing off the crossbar. Always a threat to Motherwell and unlucky not to get on scoresheet with clever back-heel which Randolph saved. 7/10
Looked lively after replacing Samaras for last 20 minutes or so, but took wrong option at times when deep in opposition box.
Winger came on for last ten minutes in place of Commons and saw little of the ball.
One trademark mazy dribble came to naught in two-minute cameo appearance after replacing Hooper.