O'Neill face to face with the ghost of Celtic past

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The Independent Online

There is one man at Hampden Park today of whom every other manager in Scotland will be simply green with envy. And it is not Martin O'Neill.

There is one man at Hampden Park today of whom every other manager in Scotland will be simply green with envy. And it is not Martin O'Neill.

David Hay has what they all crave. A trophy in the cabinet. While O'Neill and Celtic are in pursuit of richer rewards, notably the Uefa Cup, their adversary in the Scottish Cup semi-final has already paraded one piece of silverware.

Livingston's success in last month's CIS Insurance Cup final gave Scotland's youngest top-flight club their first-ever honour and put a trophy back in Hay's hands two decades after he was doing the same for Celtic. At 55, he seems to have been around for ever - but that is what happens when you peak early.

"The older you get, the more you appreciate things," he says. "This meant more to me than anything I won with Celtic simply because of the size of Livingston. We are not supposed to win trophies." Hay is only three years older than O'Neill but seems a different generation. He was playing in a European Cup final for Celtic at 21 and was the club's youngest-ever manager at 34.

Hay's love for the club ensured that he was in Seville last May for the Uefa Cup final, and his thoughts will be in Spain again on Wednesday when Celtic try to overcome Villarreal after Thursday's 1-1 draw in the quarter-final first leg. However, after a week in which nothing went to script in the European arena, there must be a nagging doubt in O'Neill's mind about an upset at Hampden.

If Livingston are not quite Deportivo La Coruña, their most potent player definitely is. David Fernandez spent five seasons at the Riazor and is still on a high after watching his home-town club knock Milan out of the Champions' League. But the gifted forward will not be able to tap into that spirit today.

Fernandez is on loan to Livingston from Celtic. He returned last August, frustrated at being down the queue of strikers after his £1.2m transfer in 2002. However, while O'Neill allowed Fernandez to play in the previous rounds of the Scottish Cup for Living-ston, he will not this time.

Hay empathises. "The moment I saw that Fernando Morientes had scored for Monaco against Real Madrid in midweek I smiled, because I knew Martin would say, 'I told you so'. I think it's correct that we don't play David. He was our best player in the CIS Cup final against Hibernian and has really recaptured his form since coming back, but he is Celtic's player and will go back there this summer.

"They are paying the bulk of his wages, and if David scored the winner for us that might put question marks over him at Celtic. I am sure Real Madrid must have wished Morientes did not play against them, but Martin's too clever to miss that."

Hay's admiration for O'Neill runs deep. He says the Northern Irishman has restored Celtic's reputation to rival the celebrated era of Jock Stein, in which Hay played a pivotal role as a midfielder before moving to Chelsea in 1974.

"I don't like making comparisons between eras, but you simply have to check the record books and see the formidable side Martin has made Celtic into," says Hay, who watched that remarkable unbeaten record at Parkhead stretched to 77 games last Thursday with the draw against Villarreal.

"Villarreal played Celtic off the pitch for 45 minutes, better than any team I have seen in Europe. But Celtic refused to give in. They came back, and that is what they share with the Celtic team I played in: the will to win." Hay was never given the same backing, financially or spiritually, when he was Celtic's manager. His four-year tenure - one title and a Scottish Cup - ended in 1987 with the sack.

"I would not say I have forgotten about it, but I don't think about it every day now," Hay reflects. "You get on with your life and you learn. You have to show the character to come back. I can say that now, but, at the time, it hurt.

"My feelings for Celtic will never change. I can still go back there and I know I am well thought of for what I did as a player and a manager. It was just the board at the time who didn't share that view."

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