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'I must be doing something right': Neil Lennon savours unique Celtic success as Conor Hazard explains how he overcame gaffe 'anger' to become penalty hero

 

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Hero: Celtic’s Conor Hazard celebrates after making a crucial penalty save in the Scottish Cup final

Hero: Celtic’s Conor Hazard celebrates after making a crucial penalty save in the Scottish Cup final

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Scott Brown raises the Scottish Cup

Scott Brown raises the Scottish Cup

Getty Images

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Hero: Celtic’s Conor Hazard celebrates after making a crucial penalty save in the Scottish Cup final

Celtic boss Neil Lennon left Hampden Park feeling "unique" after becoming the first man in Scottish football to win the domestic treble as a player and manager.

Two penalty shootout saves from 22-year-old Northern Ireland goalkeeper Conor Hazard helped former Hoops captain Lennon - who completed the clean sweep in 2001 as a midfielder under Martin O'Neill - toast a dramatic win over Hearts in the delayed 2019-20 William Hill Scottish Cup final.

The victory, which followed a 3-3 draw after extra time, also ensured Celtic completed an unprecedented quadruple domestic treble with their 40th Scottish Cup win, their fourth in a row which is another record.

The Bhoys boss, who has found himself under increasing pressure this season following some disappointing results, said: "I must be doing something right. If it was that easy it would have been done long before me.

"It is unique, I feel unique at the minute. It is something very special to me.

"I said to the players, 'I need this as much as you need it', and you saw them all at the end, how much they felt for me as well and my backroom team, who are important to me.

"It is a culmination of a lot of hard work over 20 years but I feel fantastic. I know I don't look it, but I feel it.

"It is very special to me. It is a great source of personal pride.

"I feel so proud and pride in my players and backroom staff. John Kennedy (assistant) has been an absolute rock.

"So this is as much for him and I want to thank Peter (Lawwell, chief executive), Dermot (Desmond, major shareholder) and the board for all the support they gave me.

"It's a great achievement. You will never see that (quadruple treble) again."

Conor Hazard was still struggling to come to terms with his status as Celtic hero after helping the Hoops to a thrilling William Hill Scottish Cup final win over Hearts.

Downpatrick-born Hazard saved two penalties in the shoot-out as Celtic secured an unprecedented quadruple domestic treble after a pulsating Hampden encounter ended 3-3 after extra time.

The 22-year-old Northern Ireland international only made his debut against Lille in the Europa League on December 10.

The boyhood Celtic fan, who joined the Glasgow giants from Cliftonville in 2014, kept his place last week against Kilmarnock and was again preferred to Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain for the delayed 2020 final at Hampden Park.

He said: “I don’t think it’s sunk it yet, and it’s been a crazy week and a half now.

“Three weeks ago, I would never have pictured this moment, so I’m just trying to take it all in my stride and take each day as it comes.

“In the course of the game, there were goals that we could have stopped but, at the end of the day, we’re just delighted with the result and the momentous occasion, and I’m delighted, absolutely delighted.”

Celtic were two goals up after a dominant first-half display but Liam Boyce headed a goal back and Hearts twice equalised following set-piece goals to take the game to penalties.

Former Hoops goalkeeper Craig Gordon saved first, from Ryan Christie.

But Hazard immediately denied both Kingsley and Craig Wighton before Kristoffer Ajer drove home to take the cup back to Parkhead for a record fourth successive season and the 40th time in all.

Hazard said: “It doesn’t go through your mind becoming a hero. You just try to save each penalty as it comes, so I’m really delighted.

“There’s always a plan to try and make them go a certain way, and I’m just delighted it paid off. Woodsy (goalkeeping coach Stevie Woods) and I worked on it really hard ahead of the game, and did a lot of work on it, so I couldn’t be happier.

“It was a crazy day for me, but I’m glad it worked out. You don’t want to know what was going through my head at that point (after third goal).

“I was quite angry at the time but it was all about bouncing back and trying to get my composure back as quick as possible, which, thank God, I did.”

Lennon said of Hazard: “I don’t know if the occasion got to him a little bit, he could have dealt with the third goal a little bit better.

“Or as I said to him, I think he just wanted it to go to penalties to show off.

“But he is writing his own piece of history at the club, he made two fantastic saves when we really needed it. It is only his third senior game.”

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson is hoping the performance can help with their aim this season of getting back to the Premiership.

He said: “That performance was fantastic and if we take that into every league game we will win 99 out of 100. So we have to take the positives from it.  We came in here as underdogs and we probably had the better of the game, the better of the chances.

“We knew Celtic would have a lot of possession but they scored a wonder goal and a penalty kick.

“The disappointing thing is we put ourselves in a position to win it and we just couldn’t get over the line.

“But the positives are we showed we can compete with one of the best teams in Scotland.”

Belfast Telegraph


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