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Neil Lennon: The world will be a better place when this is over

 

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Looking forward: Neil Lennon

Looking forward: Neil Lennon

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Neil Lennon during his NI days

Neil Lennon during his NI days

Getty Images

Looking forward: Neil Lennon

Neil Lennon believes the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic could leave our society in a much healthier place when the nightmare is over.

The Celtic boss says it's a time to truly appreciate what matters in our lives and reach out to those most in need.

It's a noble view of the world, echoed by his former Northern Ireland team-mate, St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright, who has encouraged his players to give their elderly season ticket holders a kind-hearted phone call amid the horrendous outbreak.

Lurgan man Lennon, who has suggested Wright would be an ideal replacement for Michael O'Neill when he leaves his Northern Ireland role, feels a new wave of compassion might strike society when this hellish time is over.

"I don't want to be getting up on my high horse and preaching to anybody but we might look back on this as a time when our society changed," said the Hoops boss. "I'm really missing football, I'm missing the players, the staff, the games, the colour, the noise, but it's no bad thing to take a moment and appreciate what you've got.

"I think football will mean a lot more to a lot of people when it returns.

"What I'm seeing now is us going back to our roots, going back to community life with people looking out for each other and maybe we'd gone away from that.

"What's happening is tragic but everybody is pulling together to try to get through it and that's brilliant."

Lennon, who started his career with Glenavon before moving to Manchester City, has often been a target of sectarian abuse.

In his time with Northern Ireland he experienced a sickening death threat and as Celtic manager he has often been on the receiving end of verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse.

Scratch below the surface of today's society and bigotry still emerges but when Lennon was growing up in mid-Ulster it was a much more poisonous time.

The 48-year-old, however, says the right family support shielded him from much of the madness.

"I had a great upbringing," he added. "My parents kept us out of trouble. We didn't have much to live on but they did their best and as you get older you appreciate more and more what your parents did for you.

"Growing up in the 1970s in Northern Ireland wasn't easy.

"The most vivid memories were of the year of the hunger strikes, the rioting and the tension. I was about 10 or 11. That was a really intense period, especially in the nationalist, republican community where I grew up.

"Plastic bullets, I used to see them on the street, six inch cylinders, heavy and hard, but my parents kept me away from it."

It could be many months now before football is played again and during this period of self-isolation, Lennon will need to check in on the physical and mental health of his players.

"They're like caged animals," he said. "These are young, fit men who're used to an almost regimented way of living. Their routine is training and playing.

"All of that is gone. Some of them will be cooking for themselves for the first time.

"Mentally, the change can put a strain on them. They're used to intensity and suddenly it's not there.

"We're very aware of the mental (health) side of this. We all need to keep our wellbeing in order.

"As long as I can get out and get some exercise for my own peace of mind then I'm fine. The silence is deafening when you go out for a walk.

"The place is deserted. We just have to ride it out as best we can. We're all in the same boat."

Celtic are 13 points ahead at the top of the Scottish Premiership but now it's a waiting game.

"We want to play all the games but I don't know if that's possible," he added. "It's not the main concern. We'll do what we can do, but the most important thing is that everybody stays safe and well in these scary times."

Belfast Telegraph