Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football Scottish Celtic

Scottish Cup Final: Lennon can build on Rodgers' rich legacy, says Brown

Hearts v Celtic, Scottish Cup Final, Hampden Park, Today, 3pm

Within reach: Celtic captain Scott Brown (pictured) has backed Neil Lennon to pick up where Brendan Rodgers left off with cup final succes
Within reach: Celtic captain Scott Brown (pictured) has backed Neil Lennon to pick up where Brendan Rodgers left off with cup final succes
Brendan Rodgers

By Andy Newport

Scott Brown has hailed the Brendan Rodgers legacy that has taken Celtic from being the nearly men of Hampden to the brink of the treble-treble.

The Hoops captain will look to lead his men to their third straight domestic clean sweep when they take on Hearts in the final of the William Hill Scottish Cup today.

But the veteran midfielder, who has shrugged off injury fears to insist he will be fit to face Craig Levein's Jambos, remembers a time when the Parkhead side did not always have it their own way at the National Stadium.

Under former boss Ronny Deila, Celtic twice suffered heartache on the slopes of Mount Florida as Inverness then Rangers dumped them out at the Scottish Cup's last four.

Before that, Neil Lennon had his own Hampden tribulations with Ross County, Gers, Kilmarnock, Hearts and St Mirren all getting the better of the Northern Irishman's team.

But Lennon will lead out a very different Celtic side today after returning as caretaker in the wake of Rodgers' Leicester defection.

It is now three years since Hibernian became the last Scottish side apart from the Hoops to claim a domestic title but Brown believes the arrival of Rodgers that summer sparked a change in mindset that has brought on an era of domination.

Asked to think back to Hibs' 2016 triumph over Rangers, the Celtic captain said: "I remember feeling a little bit jealous that they were in a cup final and we weren't.

"But Brendan came in and changed our mindset.

"We didn't have a great track record at Hampden before that but he made us realise how to change our mindset, how to improve, how to win.

"While he was here we won seven trophies on the trot. Now Neil's here, we need to make sure we make it nine on the spin for him.

"Brendan pushed us to another level. It was great man-management more than anything. He made us believe in ourselves.

"Neil's also very good at motivating and he'll do that before the game too."

Lennon's return was aimed at minimising the upheaval following Rodgers' departure south to Leicester City.

With an eighth straight league title already secured, he now needs just one more win to complete the club's latest historic achievement.

It may, however, not be enough to earn him the job permanently but Brown believes whatever happens Lennon has already earned the gratitude of everyone at the club.

Brown said: "It was always going to be hard when Brendan left but we've got a fantastic manager who as soon as Celtic called, he came right away.

"The gaffer's been phenomenal since he first came in.

"We'll deal with (his future) after the game. If he stays the lads will love it. If he doesn't, the lads will thank him for everything he's done for us.

"He came in eight years ago when we needed him then and put us back on the map in terms of winning trophies. He taught everyone what it is to be a winner.

"He loves the club probably more than anyone in that dressing room.

"He's got great ambitions. If he gets the job then it's fantastic for everyone but if he doesn't he's still done fantastic since coming in. A win on Saturday would be the icing on the cake for him."

Brown will saviour victory if it comes all the more considering he almost gave the opportunity up earlier this year after holding talks with Australian outfit Western United.

"I had the opportunity to go Down Under before a last-minute change of mind," he said. "For me, it was a great change of mind because I could forget about winning trophies in front of 60,000 fans.

"I've got the opportunity to pick up a treble-treble now. It's something that might never be done again and it's something I wanted to be part of."

Meanwhile, Hearts captain Christophe Berra admits lifting the William Hill Scottish Cup at Hampden Park on Saturday would be the pinnacle of his career.

The 34-year-old defender came through the youth ranks at Tynecastle to make his name in the first team following his debut in 2003 and returned to the club in 2017 after spells at Wolverhampton and Ipswich.

Capped 41 times for Scotland, he was an unused substitute when the Jambos beat Gretna on penalties in the 2006 Scottish Cup final at the national stadium and won the English Championship with Wolves in 2009.

However, Berra conceded the significance of beating a strongly-favoured Celtic side, who are aiming for an unprecedented domestic triple treble, and taking the trophy back to Tynecastle for the first time since 2012.

He said: "I have had some big games in my career, played obviously with my national team but I think this would be the highlight.

"I have come back to Scotland, to Edinburgh, to my home team and I don't think there would be a better occasion or highlight of my career than lifting the trophy with Hearts.

"I am not getting any younger so there won't be as many opportunities in the next few years, although hopefully there will be.

"In football, especially when you are younger, you don't realise there are very few players who will have opportunities to win silverware.

"In Scotland at the moment, Celtic are dominating the domestic scene and down in England it is Man City and Liverpool.

"If you are not in that bracket it is very few and far between. You have to give your all at every opportunity you get and hopefully make the most of it."

The Parkhead club recently clinched their eighth successive Ladbrokes Premiership title and have only lost one domestic game this year, a 2-0 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox almost two weeks ago when the league was already in the bag.

Hearts go into the match with one win in eight including a 2-1 loss at Celtic Park on the last day of the league season, albeit both bosses fielded under-strength sides.

However, Berra will travel to Glasgow in optimistic mood.

He said: "Every team has weaknesses but they have won eight in a row so they undoubtedly have that quality.

"We will respect them but we won't fear them.

"We always have a big performance in us, we have done it against Celtic in the past, especially at home.

"Hampden is Celtic's second home so it will be a difficult task.

"But we hold no fear. It will be a tough game, we are not stupid, we are the underdogs but we have nothing to lose.

"We know what we are coming up against and looking forward to the challenge.

"We are very excited. It is a massive occasion to be involved in.

"It feels like a long week, we just want the game to come and we will deal with it.

"We have been working hard on the training pitch on things we want to do and if we can put those things into the match, with a bit of lady luck we have a chance."

Scottish Cup Final talking points

Treble-Treble

The last three years have been nectar to the Celtic support, from the Invincible campaign during Brendan Rodgers' first year in Glasgow to last season's Double Treble triumph. The trophies have continued to roll in and having secured the Ladbrokes Premiership title and Betfred Cup, the Hoops now stand just 90 minutes away from completing feat that is unlikely ever to be repeated again.

Is this Neil Lennon's last stand?

Parkhead chiefs were left with a dilemma when Rodgers left them in the lurch to join Leicester but brining Lennon back in a caretaker capacity proved to be the least disruptive option. His first task was to see the team over the line in the race for their eighth straight title and while performances have hardly glistened, the objective was met. Now he must ensure the Hoops do not trip up on the final hurdle this weekend if he wants to have any hope of making his interim appointment permanent.

Craig Levein's trophy quest

Amazing as it sounds given that he has operated at the top level for most of his 38 years in the game as both a player and a manager, but the Hearts boss has so far never got his hands on a major piece of silverware. He has come close, most memorably in 1986 when his Jambos side missed out on both the league title and Scottish Cup inside the space of a disastrous week for the Tynecastle faithful. In 2008, the Dundee United team he was managing were denied League Cup glory by Rangers on penalties. Might this finally be his year?

Fitness worries ease

Both teams have had their injury problems to contend with in recent weeks. Lennon has rested James Forrest and Kieran Tierney over the past couple of games amid concerns over hamstring and hernia issues respectively, but both will be in the team alongside skipper Scott Brown, who has shrugged off rumours of a foot injury. Oliver Burke has a knee issue which may yet keep him out but the only other first-team regular out of action is Ryan Christie. Hearts have had an injury nightmare this season, with Olly Lee joining a list of confirmed casualties already containing the names of Steven Naismith, Callumn Morrison, Aidan Keena, Ben Garuccio and Demetri Mitchell. Levein is confident, however, that Uche Ikpeazu, Peter Haring and Arnaud Djoum will be ready.

History favours Hearts

This weekend's clash will be the fourth meeting of the clubs in the final of Scotland's premier cup competition, with the Jambos holding the advantage on two wins to one. The first final showdown came in 1901 as goals from Bobby Walker and Charles Thomson, plus a Mark Bell double, ensured Hearts edged a 4-3 thriller. Two strikes from Peter Somers plus a Willie Orr goal allowed Celtic to level up six years later. The most recent final face-off came 63 years ago when Ian Crawford's brace, added to be another goal from Alfie Conn - father of the future Rangers and Celtic star of the same name - meant the cup went back to Tynecastle after a 3-1 success.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph