Neil Lennon is loving life in Cyprus and believes winning the Cup for Omonia Nicosia on the Mediterranean island last month was one of the greatest achievements of his career.
That’s some statement given the former Northern Ireland midfielder has enjoyed numerous outstanding moments in his football life from being a respected Premier League star and League Cup winner with Leicester City to his exceptional feats at Celtic, winning domestic trebles as a player and manager.
Having left Parkhead in February last year following his second spell in charge of the Hoops, the Lurgan native took over at Omonia in March, replacing ex-Blackburn, Manchester United and Rangers defender Henning Berg, and at the end of May was celebrating a famous triumph in the Cypriot Cup and qualification for next season’s Europa League.
Lennon’s side defeated Ethnikos Achnas on penalties in a dramatic contest in which Omonia defender Shehu Abdullahi was sent off early on and the boss himself saw red in extra-time just before the shoot-out.
It was Omonia’s first Cup success in a decade, helping cement Lennon’s hero status with the passionate Nicosia support. He is a popular figure here in Cyprus.
The 50-year-old told Sunday Life Sport: “I’m loving it in Cyprus. There is a great way of life and the people are very welcoming. It is wonderful. I’m at a good club which has a big support and I have a good group of players, who are very humble and just want to play.
“They won the League last year and then for whatever reason didn’t perform and Henning Berg left and I was given the opportunity to take over. When I came in the target was to try and get the team performing again and to do well in the Cup.
“The players bought into what we were trying to do and it was an incredible feeling to lift the Cup. Personally it was fantastic to come to a different country and win a major trophy and for the club it was brilliant to win and qualify for Europe next season.
“To go the whole way and win the Cup in the manner that we did was one of the best things I have ever done.
“It was liberating really after the fall-out of the last few months at Celtic and it has energised me.
“I was surprised by the quality of the League in Cyprus. There are big clubs and good players and football is the No.1 sport by a million miles and the people are so passionate.”
In the Cup Final, ex-Hibs boss Lennon sarcastically applauded the referee after being shown the red card for an outburst in a scene that went viral.
He said: “The referees are very pedantic. It’s quite regular that managers or staff get sent off over here. I have kept cool but I couldn’t let things go in the final because it was so bad. My right back was sent off after two minutes and we had to change our shape to get over the line. It was brilliant when we did.”