Lennon 'immensely proud' of title-winners
Manager’s thoughts immediately turn to keeping prized asset after 4-1 win over Inverness secures league at Celtic Park
Celtic manager Neil Lennon (centre) celebrates league victory with his team at Celtic Park. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Celtic's Gary Hooper (right) will be hard for Neil Lennon to hold on to. Photographph: Craig Halkett/PA Wire.
Neil Lennon revealed has asked the Celtic board to do all they can to keep top scorer Gary Hooper after he reiterated his worth with a double in the 4-1 win over Inverness that clinched the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title at Parkhead.
The Hoops went into the game only needing a point but they did not come to life until after a dull, goalless first-half when goals from the former Scunthorpe forward, to take his season tally to 28, and a strike by stand-in skipper Joe Ledley in between, got the celebrations fully under way.
After the game Hooper was asked on television if he would be at Celtic next season and replied “we’ll see”, but his boss is confident that there is a chance of keeping him. “Yes, that’s just my feeling,” Lennon said. “I have made my submissions to the board regarding Gary.
“I haven’t really spoken to his agent lately at length but I would like to keep Gary here because he is such an important player. Goalscorers are at a premium, he is only 24 and has got 28 goals this season, 18 in the league. He is two short of having 20-plus goals in the league for the third consecutive season which shows what an important, pivotal player he has been.
“We don’t want to break the wage structure because one thing that is important is team spirit. These players, who are not on huge money, have raised the bar here over the last couple of years but we will do what we can to keep him.”
Lennon watched from the stand, serving the first of a three-game ban as a result of being found guilty on Thursday of offensive language towards St Mirren skipper Jim Goodwin, and did not join the players on the pitch until 15 minutes after the final whistle, as per regulations regarding a suspended manager.
He revealed his overwhelming emotion was “one of immense pride in the players”.
He added: “The second half was indicative of the way they have played not only this season but the three seasons I have been here. When they really put their minds to it they show what a great team they are.”
The former Celtic skipper urged his players to enjoy their title win, predictable as it was in the absence of traditional rivals Rangers, who re-emerged in the Irn-Bru Third Division at the start of the season after administration then liquidation.
The Northern Irishman said: “It is pretty special. I never take these things for granted so I hope the players enjoy the moment. You don’t appreciate it as much when you are playing. You look back on your career and think ‘that was pretty good’. But sometimes, when you are young, in your 20s, you don’t take it for granted but it passes you by.
“I just want them to appreciate what you have done because they might never do it again. During the 90s the club was starved of success. Martin (O’Neill) came in and revolutionised the club, brought a winning mentality to the club, Gordon (Strachan) carried that on and I think that is the eighth title in 13 years so the club is in rude health now. We have developed a domination of the championship over the years which is fantastic.”
The Parkhead men can now look forward to the William Hill Scottish Cup final against Hibernian at Hampden next month where they will try to complete the domestic double. But before then, however, some players will be allowed a week’s holiday.
“There will be players getting a holiday now, from today," Lennon said. "Four of them will get a holiday next week and after the Motherwell game, there will be five getting a break before the Ross County game, and then we will have everyone back for the last two league games and then the cup final.”
Caley manager Terry Butcher, a former Rangers defender, said: “Celtic are worthy winners. They are difficult to stop when they are in that mood, especially when there is a title at stake. It is difficult for Celtic because they have not had Rangers with them. When I was at Rangers I couldn’t have contemplated not having Celtic there pushing you. But Celtic have got there and got a cup final to look forward to. They are a good team and when they are enjoying their celebrations, we will be having fish and chips.”