MIKEY JOHNSTON has heeded the warning given to him by Neil Lennon who praised the young attacker but also told him that he’d have to work on his fitness levels. Lenny was none too impressed that Johnston had to be substituted in both the Youth Cup Final and the Scottish Cup Final after suffering from cramp on each occasion.
That told The Celtic manager that Johnston, despite having all the talent going, required to work on his fitness as a priority if he was going to make it at the highest levels of the game. Johnston took note and even put his hand in his own pocket to recruit some specialist fitness help over the summer break. He brought in Hugh Watson, a fitness coach recommended to him by former Celtic star Shaun Maloney, now the assistant manager at Belgium.
And Johnston admits that he can feel the benefits of the hard work that resulted from this programme which continued through the club’s on pre-season plans with a week’s work at Lennoxtown before heading over to Austria and Switzerland.
“I’m feeling good after the trip. I thought I did all right,” Johnson said to the media, as reported by Daily Record. “The main thing with pre-season is getting your fitness and I’m feeling good in that respect. When you’re transitioning from youth football into first-team football, the intensity is a lot higher and it is a wee bit harder to last the 90 minutes.
“I used to manage games at youth level and I want to able to do that now, play 90 minutes at first-team level every week. So I’ve been working really hard in training and over the summer.
“I’ve been working with Hugh and I’ve come back again flying, feeling like I was really fit. You do have to take into account the games I’m playing in now.
“The week before the Scottish Cup Final, I played 90 minutes against Hearts. It was the same team we were playing in the Final, the same game, but I’ve cramped up.
“Maybe because it’s a bigger game and the adrenaline is going. It could be that.”
Twenty year old Johnston looked back on his fitness-first summer and reckons it will stand him in good stead for the season ahead.
“I was away on holiday but was doing stuff every day while I was there, then I met my fitness coach when I was back for a couple of sessions.
“Most people do it now – it’s just what you must do at this level. You don’t get much of a holiday in football anyway and that’s what you need to do if you want to come back in flying.
“At a club like Celtic, that’s what everyone has to do. You don’t get a lot of time off and you’re into big European games right away.
“Shaun actually recommended Hugh to me – he used him a lot when he was at the club. I still text Shaun now and then because he always has good advice for me. I always like to listen to people who have a lot of experience.”
Mikey Johnston is hoping to be involved on Tuesday night when the serious business gets underway in Sarajevo as Celtic play the first of eight games in the qualifying stages that they need to negotiate if there is to be Group sate Champions League football this season. The Celtic boys though are looking forward to the challenge this time around.
“Of course there is pressure in these games. These are the matches you need to win to get into the Champions League so everyone is going to be up for them. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“Everyone is looking forward to it and hopefully we can get a good result away from home.
“I played in some big games last year and that gave me the experience to go into this season. Hopefully I’ll take into the games what I’ve learned. I played in the Mestalla against Valencia and huge games like that are great.
“Also the European games I’ve played at youth level hold you in good stead too.
“We haven’t really spoken about Sarajevo in detail yet but we’ve been working towards it tactically, and on our shape, since we’ve been back. And the way we always play is looking to impose ourselves.”
If last year was a break-through season this time around it’s all about establishing himself as a first team regular for ‘fitness fanatic’ Mikey Johnston.
“I hope I can keep getting chances if I keep working hard, kick on and break into the team permanently. You always talk to the manager here and there, he gives you pieces of advice and you take it on board.
“There are new faces at the club but competition is healthy as there will be loads of good players in each position. It’s not a bad thing if other people come in, because you can learn off more experienced players.”