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How I masterminded cup final victory over Celtic in 2012, reveals former Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels

 

Final chapter: Hearts’ Craig Levein and Neil Lennon of Celtic
Final chapter: Hearts’ Craig Levein and Neil Lennon of Celtic

By Steven Beacom

Kenny Shiels knows all about wrecking Neil Lennon's treble dream and claims Hearts must win the psychological and tactical battles against Celtic in the Scottish Cup final to have any chance of doing the same.

The Edinburgh outfit enter tomorrow's decider at Hampden Park as massive underdogs, with the Hoops going for a clean sweep of domestic trophies for the third season in a row.

Back in 2012, Kilmarnock, managed by Shiels, were given even less of a chance in the League Cup final. Celtic were well on their way to winning the title and had cruised into the last-four of the Scottish Cup. Lennon looked set to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Martin O'Neill, who had guided the Bhoys to treble glory in 2001.

Former Coleraine, Ballymena United and Derry City boss Shiels had other ideas.

"Before the game I had been told by people in the town not to get the hopes of the players up too much because clubs like Kilmarnock didn't beat Celtic at Hampden in a final," recalled Shiels, who was last week appointed manager of the Northern Ireland women's senior team.

"I told this to the boys in the dressing room before the match, saying even people from Kilmarnock didn't believe we could do it and had thrown in the towel.

"In my opinion, the reason why teams don't normally beat Celtic in Cup finals is that if you are level at half-time, the team that is playing them try and keep what they have and go for penalties.

"My plan was with 20-odd minutes to go to bring on another striker, so I brought on our new signing Dieter van Tornhout and took off a midfielder and played two up front.

"We had the audacity to play with two strikers against Celtic. You wouldn't believe how the flow of the game changed. Now the two centre-backs were engaged with two strikers.

"We started to get more of the ball and scored a brilliant goal late on. We passed through the units and got down the side and crossed it, and we had four or five men in the box against Celtic with just a few minutes to go. Dieter was in shock when he scored. Celtic couldn't believe it.

"Even after we took the lead our boys were still driving forward. At that stage I was thinking, 'Hold on a minute lads'. Winning that Cup was one of the highlights of my career, but it was tinged with real sadness too because the dad of one of our players, Liam Kelly, died shortly after the final."

Asked if he felt Hearts could pull off a similar shock tomorrow, Shiels stated: "I don't know if Hearts have enough about them, but to beat Celtic they will have to win the psychological and tactical battles.

"We got our tactics right when we beat Celtic in 2012 but psychologically we were spot on as well. Everyone, including all my players, had a remit to talk about the treble Celtic were going for. Neil had never won it. They hadn't won the treble since Martin.

"The league title was in the can, they thought they would go on to win the Scottish Cup (Celtic ended up losing to Hearts in the semi-finals) and we were supposed to be easy for them in the League Cup final.

"What we did though was keep talking about the treble to ramp it up. In an interview ahead of the final I even said, 'It would be a travesty of justice if Celtic didn't win the treble and we'll just be going there to do our best'.

"We kept talking about it and Celtic were huge favourites by the time the final came around. At the final whistle I remember Scott Brown falling to his knees. He couldn't believe that they had been beaten.

"Against Hearts on Saturday, Celtic and Neil should do it though because I don't think Hearts are the most dangerous side. Had it been Killie or even Hibs, I think there could have been upset."

Shiels revealed that when he reflects on that final seven years ago he does so with a sense of fate relating to the match-winner.

"Some things come from destiny," said the 63-year-old.

"We had one day left in the January window that season and I went over to Cyprus to look at a player - Dieter van Tornhout. I was literally over and back to Limassol on the same day. There was no chance to get any sunshine.

"When I got there, he wasn't even starting. He was on the bench. He came on in the last 15 minutes. To be honest, he was just okay, but I felt we needed to sign him because he was a back-to-goal striker who could link play and was different to what we had.

"He hardly ever got into the team but he came on in the 73rd minute in the final and scored the winner. See what I mean about destiny."

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