Cup win can make Lennon smile after painful season

Celtic's young team need to end a turbulent campaign with final victory over Motherwell this afternoon

Neil Lennon can finish his tumultuous first season as Celtic manager with a moment of triumph and hope.

His team play Motherwell this afternoon in the final of the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park and victory would frame the season's story as the success of a young team and coach under unfamiliar pressures. Looking forward, though, the crucial first trophy for Celtic's young squad would open the possibility of more rewarding future seasons.

At the end of Celtic's league campaign Lennon said that "this isn't the end, this is just the beginning". This reflects a sense that this Celtic team will improve and mature into the coming seasons better than Rangers. Celtic, needing to regenerate, bought young and gifted last summer. The embedding of the new generation produced some thrilling football at Celtic Park. Emilio Izaguirre, Gary Hooper, Beram Kayal and Joe Ledley, all born between 1986 and 1988, have excelled.

But Celtic have not quite had the maturity at decisive moments to win a trophy yet. They lost the CIS Cup final in extra-time to Rangers in March. And, when the title was theirs to lose, they did exactly that by losing 3-2 at Inverness on 4 May to gift Rangers the league. Experience teaches the importance of a team winning its trophy; it instils belief for future battles. A victory and a cup this afternoon may equip Celtic with those qualities necessary to beat Rangers to the title next year.

It is impossible, though, to consider the meaning of a trophy entirely within the frame of football. This season has displayed the most toxic excesses of sectarianism in the Scottish game. Lennon has been the locus of a campaign of hate unprecedented in British sport. In January Lennon was sent bullets in the post. In March two bombs, one a hoax, the other not, were posted to him. Earlier this month he was attacked on the touchline at Tynecastle by a Hearts supporter.

Lennon is known for his combative nature. At times he is antagonistic, although his squabble with Ally McCoist and his hands-cupped-to-ears gesture at Ibrox were reminders of what makes Glasgow's football so compelling. But his conduct in the face of both threatened and actual physical violence has been impressively calm.

Walter Smith said this week that similar threats would have driven him out of the Rangers job. "It would have been the end for me," he said. "I would not have been in the job any longer." Lennon is a marathon away from matching Smith's achievements in Scottish football but victory today would reward faultless nerve under unimaginable circumstances. It may also inspire his young Celtic team to greater successes in brighter times.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore