Thursday 22 March 2018

Hooper hails Lennon influence

Roddy Forsyth

Goals against Rangers took Gary Hooper to the hearts of Celtic fans, but yesterday the striker made a bid for their minds with a dainty little statement of the club's importance in the scheme of things.

The 23-year-old, who will play against Inverness Caley Thistle in tonight's postponed Scottish Cup quarter-final, disclosed that he could have gone from Scunthorpe to the Premier League south of the border, but that a visit to Glasgow had settled the matter.

"As soon as I heard about Celtic being interested, my mind was made up. I knew how big the club was but when I came up I realised they were bigger than I thought," said Hooper who, with 15 goals this season, was this week called up to the England U-21 squad.

"There were a couple of little Premier League clubs interested -- Blackpools and that -- but they're not going to be challenging for the title are they? Celtic are challenging for the title and that's what I want. I didn't want to go anywhere else.

"I wasn't thinking about playing international football. I was just coming up to play for Celtic and playing for England is a bonus.

"It's great to be called up and I'm looking forward to it. I thought I'd come here and take a year to find my feet.

"I didn't think it would come this early. I'm just focusing on tomorrow at Inverness and then the game against Rangers on Sunday and then going off with the U-21s, but it's massive, a big tournament."

Neil Lennon has allowed Hooper to grow into his role naturally rather than force him into a new mould.

"He's just said, 'enjoy it -- just play like I've seen you play for Scunthorpe'. He just told me to put the ball in the back of the net," said Hooper. "I feel sharper. I have more creative players around me, creating the goals."

Caley manager Terry Butcher has held up Ross County's victory over Celtic in last season's Scottish Cup semi-final as an example of what is possible, saying: "It helped them financially and it lifted them. We want to replicate that and go one better, but we have to beat Celtic." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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