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Lennon salutes players as Celtic secure double

Celtic manager Neil Lennon hopes his players are finally given the respect he feels they deserve after clinching the domestic double by winning the Scottish Cup.

A double from Gary Hooper and a Joe Ledley strike saw the Hoops come out on top against Hibernian at Hampden and add another piece of silverware to their Premier League title.

Lennon's men impressed on the continental stage this term by reaching the last 16 of the Champions League – including a victory over Barcelona along the way. The Celtic boss knows his side were expected to deliver the goods domestically, particularly following the plight of Old Firm rivals Rangers.

But he believes a double and a better-than-expected European run means no one can ask any questions of his players.

He said: "That's the double and we had a great European campaign. For a team that gets nipped at a little bit, they are a great side and I hope they get the respect they deserve tonight.

"People shouldn't be asking questions. Okay, domestically we are expected to do things but surely no one could have expected what we did in Europe this season.

"People were raising their eyebrows at the qualification stage. Then, when the group stage came out, people were raising their eyebrows at that.

"We overcame it all. They were playing the 59th game of a marathon season. The majority of them will be back in on June 20 so I hope they enjoy their break because they thoroughly deserve it."

Hibs had plenty of incentives of their own for coming out on top at the national stadium.

They were looking to make amends for last year's final, when they suffered a crushing 5-1 defeat to Edinburgh rivals Hearts, as well as finally ending a 111-year wait for the trophy.

With so much at stake for both sides, Lennon admits nerves were a major factor.

He said: "It feels amazing. I felt so nervous this morning and all the way through the game really. It was just the weight of expectation riding on the game.

"We didn't want to be the team who broke the hoodoo for Hibs as well and have that thrown at us.

"Our form at Hampden has been a bit patchy but the players were excellent and they controlled the game and played with great maturity and scored three very special goals.

"To win the double as a player was great but to win it as a manager is just fantastic. It was just all about the day. I don't know why I felt a little more nervous than normal. It was probably because everybody thought it was a shoo-in or a foregone conclusion.

"But football's not like that. Hibs had their own huge incentives to win it. I enjoyed the end, I enjoyed the celebrations. I'm absolutely thrilled."

The win saw Lennon become only the third Celt to win the double as both a player and manager, joining an elite club which also includes Jock Stein and Billy McNeill.

He said: "They are two icons of the club. When I got the job, I wanted to follow in their footsteps. We are progressing well now."

Players such as Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster have been linked with moves south of the border, meaning this game could be their last in a Celtic jersey.

DEPARTURES

On potential departures, Lennon said: "If they are to go, it's very sad from my point of view but they've given the supporters some great nights and great days."

Hibs boss Pat Fenlon was disappointed to lose a Scottish Cup final for a second year running but felt this defeat was nothing like last year's drubbing by their derby rivals.

He said: "There is no comparison to last year's final. I thought we contributed to the game and we didn't do that last year.

"I can't fault the players for their effort. We are bitterly disappointed that we lost a cup final but I can't ask any more of the players and the supporters today. They were tremendous.

"We are disappointed but we lost to the better side and there is no shame in losing to Celtic."

Irish Independent