Saturday 20 January 2018

Kevin Doyle still on radar as Lennon looks to boost Celtic's Irish 'Gathering'

Kevin Doyle in action
Kevin Doyle in action
Celtic manager Neil Lennon
David Kelly

David Kelly

NEIL LENNON, one of only a select few to have achieved a Scottish League and Cup double as both player and manager with Celtic, has no doubts that the club is defined by its Irish roots.

Whether it is in the ingenuity that has seen Jim McGuinness deploying his skills as a psychologist with the club's younger talents, or the revival of Anthony Stokes' fortunes, Ireland and Celtic remain inextricably linked.

At Lansdowne Road yesterday, all the grand talk was of how Liverpool and Celtic will be used as part of 'The Gathering' to temporarily repatriate Irish people living abroad when the quixotically named 'Dublin Decider' is staged on August 10.

But all journalists yesterday wanted to talk to Lennon about was the continued gathering of Irish talent in Glasgow and the prospect of more to come.

"It's very important," Lennon said of the Irish connection. "Myself and (majority shareholder) Dermot Desmond are very strong on that, having a bond running through the club with an Irish theme.

"We do like to have Irish players at the club. It's important. Not only because they're good enough, but they also add to the culture and the history of the club. That's really important.

"Bringing Celtic to Ireland is also important. We have a huge number of supporters here who sacrifice so much time and money to come and see us. Others don't have the luxury of being able to that. It's a bit of payback for us to come and see them."

Lennon's quest for talent – as well as the ceaseless summer transfer tattle about potential exits – will continue, and much of it will focus on Kevin Doyle and Stokes.

The Celtic manager (pictured below) had more than a cursory interest in Doyle last January and, despite the Wexford man's end-of-season flourish, Wolves' dismal decline will re-open the contact sooner rather than later.

"I've always been an admirer of Kevin," said the Lurgan man. "I was looking to bring in another striker during the last transfer window and he fitted the bill.

"He was having a bit of a tough time at Wolves and I thought that coming to Celtic might re-energise him, give him that zest for football again.

"You don't lose the talent; it's a mentality thing. Sometimes you lose some confidence; you're just in an unhappy place. We felt that coming to Celtic might have given him that spark again.

"Kevin has definitely got quality – as he showed towards the end of the season when he started banging the goals in for Wolves again. We'll decide later on whether we go in for him again."

While Doyle's fall from grace has been melancholic to witness, Stokes has stumbled more than once during an enigmatic career, perhaps explaining Celtic's reluctance to dangle a significant contract in front of him.

The Dubliner has already rejected the new deal offered to him, but Lennon is confident that he will agree terms shortly, surmising that Stokes has adopted a new attitude after injury forced him to miss Celtic's romantic Champions League odyssey.

"That hurt him. Anthony is one of those players who doesn't get injured that much. That four or five months he had out made him realise what an opportunity he might have had," said Lennon.

"Now he's come back and he looks great. He's in great condition. He looks stronger for all the work that he's done in the gym. He's actually a very good athlete.

"He's always had the talent. For two seasons in a row, he's scored 20-plus goals which is a godsend. He's an important player to me. I'm pretty confident he'll be with us next season."

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Lennon is rather less keen on acquiring Irish defenders, with Richard Dunne failing the equation involving age profile and wage demands, while talk linking Sean St Ledger with Parkhead is way off the mark.

"Sean's a good player. He played very well against England, but he's not a name that's been on our list," said Lennon.

As the mercury rises in summer, so too does the transfer speculation. Lennon popped up at the French Cup final last week and was immediately linked with seven different players.

And, as a reflection of his own growing emergence, it is no surprise that Lennon has been linked with a move south of the border. For the moment, however, he is going nowhere.

"There's plenty more I want to achieve with Celtic. I'm in the precious position of being in a very stable job at a fantastic club and I've got to pay tribute to Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell (chief executive) for the support they've given me.

"We gave people a little glimpse, or a big glimpse, of what the club is all about this season, particularly in the Champions League.

"The challenge for all of us at the club is to replicate that next season."

Irish Independent

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