Celtic v Hearts – ‘The 25th of May, The Day Celtic makes History,’ Niall J’s Cup Final Preview

So this is it. 25th of May, The morning of the Scottish Cup Final.

Celtic face Hearts at Hampden at 3pm this afternoon. The culmination of a tumultuous season and we stand on the brink of the greatest domestic haul this club has achieved. A 9th domestic trophy out of 9 is within touching distance.

Even taking into consideration the possibilities of extra-time or penalties we’ll know one way or the other by around 5.30 if this Celtic side have achieved the Treble Treble.

To quote the bard. “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

The Bhoys at Hampden

This team have a habit of stepping up when it matters, turning up for the big occasion and delivering. We’ve heard debate over tired bodies and tired minds at the end of yet another long hard season. It’s the last week in May 2019 and these lads started pre-season training in the last week of June in 2018. Almost a calendar year rather than a football season, you can certainly excuse an aching limb or two.

One thing this group don’t tire of however is delivering when it matters. They turn up for the big occasion and they perform consistently and effectively. They don’t deviate from their style of play, they believe in themselves, they believe in each other and they know how to win together. Winning trophies is now second nature. Breaking habits is a hard thing to do.

In front of Celtic today are a Craig Levein Hearts side. As ever a team built in it’s managers image. Hard, physical, uncompromising, somewhat lacking in technical ability but aware of what they’re strengths are and comfortable playing to them. They also have a degree of devilment in their play. They’ll know the one advantage they will have over Celtic is physicality. But it’s a big pitch at Hampden. They won’t be able to chase, tackle and intimidate all afternoon.

Patience will be the key for Celtic and it’s something we have in abundance. If the early goal doesn’t come we won’t deviate from the game plan, we’ll pass and probe all day waiting for the opening and it will come and when it does we’ll take it.

In the Heat of Lisbon

This side have been through a fair bit of turmoil this season. The last 2 trebles have not had to be won under as much off field pressure as this. From early season contract disputes, our top striker being sold without time to replace him and a manager walking out as we were just getting down to the real business. Not to mention the questionable governance of many of Celtic’s matches this season.

We were lucky our own Red head Adair stepped in to extinguish the flames of concern and anguish among the players and fans. Neil Lennon has seen this club through to it’s 8th consecutive title and he’s got Celtic to the Cup Final, on the brink of this historic Treble Treble.

Traditionally the outside world of Scottish football doesn’t take to Lennon, this time the slings and arrows have come from an element of a nervous Celtic support. He’s been the focus of these fears at times along with the players as many deflected their own nerves and insecurities as to whether we’d get the 8th title concluded onto him.

Neil Lennon has risen above it all. He called taking on this role at short notice ‘my duty’ and an ‘obligation’ as a Celtic supporter. For that he put his own legendary status at Celtic on the line. It could have been diminished had he failed. For that I for one will be forever grateful to Neil Francis Lennon.

It’s too easy to say anyone could have seen this through, I simply don’t believe that. To do it with a remit of just keep it going, don’t make too many changes, just see the last man’s game plan through and get us over the line is another reason why many managers wouldn’t have touched it. To agree to that was selfless and shows to me Celtic will always be put before self with Lennon, something our previous manager with the benefit of hindsight of course was never going to do.

Proudly flying our flag in Paradise

Whatever happens today, if Lennon stays or goes, to him it’s immaterial. It’s all about the football club, it’s all about the players and all about the supporters. To Lennon this has never ever been about him.

It is my hope that Neil Lennon is rewarded with the opportunity to then build a side as he wants it built. I realise this is not the opinion of everyone. It is simply my own belief he has earned the opportunity to step out of the previous managers shoes and walk in his own. He started the run of 8 titles, I’d like to see him take that to the 10 his way.

All week he has deflected the focus from his own future, while happy enough to allow the questions to perhaps deflect a little of the pressure away from the squad. He’s told everyone who would listen it’s about achieving greatness for the football club and it’s about the players.

He’s right it is about these players.

When their mentor walked out they were stunned, for many players there would have been an understandable drop off in results. If there has it’s been minimal.

The likes of Brown and Lustig have stepped up and driven those around them on. This shouldn’t be underestimated either. They too have faced criticism from the stands and the media as it was perceived they had stuttered to the title. They didn’t stutter, they won the title convincingly, they are in another cup final and on the brink of history making glory. Given the backdrop these players have shown their mettle. Not every changing room would have reacted so positively and ploughed on to such success, in fact very few would have.

Johnstone, Tully, Murdoch, Auld and Hay…

This group are winners, they are a close group and they are not alienated from their support. They feed off the fans and in this day and age of the football mercenary we are lucky we have few of that ilk in our ranks. Our core group support the club, they let those who come in know what that means and what is expected. Many wilt under such expectation. This group thrive on it.

It’s the 25th of May and a date that is symbolic in the Celtic calendar. It’s the day Celtic’s greatest ever side won the European Cup in Lisbon. Today it could also become the date of Celtic’s greatest ever domestic achievement.

We’ve lost 2 Lions this years. In Billy McNeill and Steve Chalmers. The Captain and the winning goalscorer. It is therefore a fitting date to take the field in such a momentous match in Celtic’s history.

Number 5 scores 67th minute winner. Cesar’s Fairytale lives on.

When Simunovic scored against Kilmarnock he wore the number 5. He did it in the 67th minute. It seemed the stars aligned over this Club. Seems to me today’s date in itself means those stars could be aligning overhead again.

Whatever happens today, whatever the result, even if this amazing run of success ends today we have a side we can be so proud of. A Celtic side that have performed wonderfully and consistently in some testing circumstances. If we lose this shouldn’t be forgotten in the post match analysis.

But you know what there is something romantic, something of the destiny about this football club and about this season itself. Many things have been sent to test but here we are on the verge of something incredible. It’s there for us. One more battle fought and we can achieve it.

I’ll sign off with a quote from Billie Jean King “A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning.”

Bring it home Bhoys.

Niall J

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

Comments are closed.