Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Biting Back

Neil Lennon left Celtic this week after four successful years in charge
Neil Lennon left Celtic this week after four successful years in charge

The first interview I conducted with Neil Lennon took place at the old Maine Road stadium in 1989 when he was a wide-eyed, chatterbox of a 17-year-old Manchester City apprentice, mad keen to make the most of the chance he'd been given.

It was easy to warm to him, not least as a fellow Lurgan townsman. Also because 'those in the know' had advised majoring the feature on its other two subjects, his City youth team-mates Michael Hughes and Gerry Taggart. Lenny, it was whispered, was considered the least likely of the Northern Ireland trio to 'make it'.

How ironic that while his two compadres enjoyed exceptional careers, Lenny is the one who has travelled furthest and journey's end is still not in sight. Lenny has made a virtue of proving assorted critics, detractors and morons wrong and don't bet against him doing so again as the wisdom of his decision to quit Celtic is called into question.

Lenny doesn't do comfort zones. Mind you, after the trials and tribulations of Glasgow, his predicted move to the pressure cooker of the Premiership might seem like a quiet life by comparison.

He has fought adversity all his life – rejection, injury, depression, bombs and bullets in the post, assaults and death threats. And still the fierce, red-headed determination not to yield continues to shine as brightly as I noted all those years ago.

He was as articulate and deep thinking then, too, as in a recent Match Of The Day interview that seemed to surprise people who didn't know him and landed him a role as a BBC World Cup pundit. We have not heard the last of Neil Lennon, as long there is a fresh challenge to test him. But, unlike some who couldn't stand the heat, he'll find it in a tracksuit, not a TV studio.

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