Tuesday morning: Lennoxtown.
It’s my first time here and I arrive early, a tub of my Mum’s world famous tablet in hand. An aspiring young coach I know collects it & promises to share it out. We’ll see.
It’s ridiculously cold for April, but with the snow covered Campsie Fells in the background it’s also very picturesque. The press room is warm and cosy, a welcome relief from the bitter cold outside. The curtains are closed but I can peak outside and see the heads & bibs of the players as they train in preparation for tomorrow nights rearranged match against Dundee. A win would take Celtic within two matches of their 7th consecutive league championship and Brendan Rodgers fifth trophy in less than two seasons.
Someone starts humming My Boy Lollipop as they set up their recording equipment ahead of the lunchtime press conference. Swine. I’d just got that bloody song out of my head.
Like the cool kids in the lecture I sit up the back while the enthusiastic mature students from Sky, BBC, STV, Clyde and the newspapers sit eagerly down the front. The representative from Sky had previously been nominated to ask where this ginger newcomer was from. She did really well pretending not to have heard of the 90 Minute Cynic. None of the front row would have heard of the band Pavement.
The hushed discussions among the journalists are of who will be in goals tomorrow night, with Scott Bain unable to play against his parent club. Is Craig Gordon, who is back training, fit to start? Will Dangerous Dorus DeVries be back between the sticks?
The door opens and the room springs to life as Leigh Griffiths enters to take questions.
“It’s going to be difficult to get back into the team. Since I’ve been out Moussa & Odsonne have been doing really well. It’s always difficult but when you get a chance you’ve got to take it.”
Griffiths really has matured under Brendan Rodgers. He might always be a wee daft Hibee at heart but he’s found a home here. A place where his instinctive, natural talent for scoring goals can be appreciated. He also become much more of a team player, acknowledging the great work of his colleagues while he’s been out.
Yet, as he praised his teammates I sensed that he hasn’t lost any of his confidence. He knows he offers something different. He knows this is the important part of the season. And above all, he knows he has plenty of time to make himself a true Celtic legend in the remaining games that define the season.
“I’d got a tear in my calf muscle but the problem was coming from my hips. My glutes were that tight that my hamstrings and my calves were doing double the work.”
Griffiths had reason to be in an optimistic mood. For the first time in the past two years he was playing without pain or the fear that the recurrence of his calf injury would occur. He said it was a ‘huge weight off his shoulders’ knowing that he could give his all out on the pitch. I do wonder though if his hips and glutes problem are solely football related though….
“At the start of the season I knew that I had a good chance of hitting the 100 goal mark so that’s my next target.”
With 97 goals from 177 appearances and a possible 9 games remaining the odds are firmly in his favour. Especially as two of the remaining games come against Rangers and one is against Hearts, teams that bring out out his gallus side. Expect Instagram filtered images galore if he hits a hat trick in the semifinal.
“Pulling on the national jersey means everything to me.”
He hasn’t yet spoken to Big Eck about his return to the national squad and was asked about meeting up with the Scotland squad for the ill-conceived matches against Peru and Mexico. He said he hasn’t checked with his manager to make sure it’s ok for him to go.
Brendan Rodgers followed Griffiths, coming straight off the training field in his tracksuit. He, like his striker, thought it would be good for Griffiths to join Scotland in the summer as he hasn’t played much football this year.
Rodgers, who looked as happy as we were to get out the cold, was relaxed but focussed he sat down to answer the media’s questions. Does he know that Father John Misty isn’t the local parish priest?
He definitely knows that he thinks about Scott Bain at least:
“He was fast tracked with the game against Rangers, you really got to see the personality of the player as well as the goalkeeping qualities of the player.”
It wasn’t so much what Brendan said, the really interesting part was more what he omitted. He was delighted with Scott Bain; how he seems to get ‘what we’re trying to do here’ and how he hopes a deal can be done to make his more to Celtic permanent.
He mentioned Craig Gordon and how he was delighted that he seemed to be back ahead of schedule, and likely to start tomorrow night.
But not once did Rodgers mention Dangerous Dorus. Hallelujah! It seems he has run out of patience with the dithering Dutchman.
Scott Bain does seem a better fit, competent enough for domestic games but still with room for growth. If he is not to be Gordon’s successor he would be a more than capable deputy to whoever was to replace him as number 1.
“The beauty of the game up here is that it is a real physical game, it’s a tough game. You’ve seen players from all across the world, from down south in England move up here to play and it’s been really difficult for them.”
Rodgers was surprised that Andrew Davies red card was deemed only ‘Violent Conduct’ and not ‘Excessive’ by the SFA. Scott Brown getting up and playing on must have meant it was not excessive enough.
It’s clear that Rodgers cares for the game up here and wants the best for Scottish football. He tries to influence the game while keeping its identity. He wants his Celtic side to pass the ball but still be strong enough to compete physically. Like a good headteacher he wants us all to learn and improve.
“There’s a lot of envy of Scott Brown… Instead of being envious of him, he’s a player that needs to be emulated in his qualities. He’s a player that would go right in at the top end of the Premier League.”
He went on to compare Brown’s personality to that of Luis Suarez. Both wind up merchants (one without a racial element to it) who excel in intimidating atmospheres but most importantly both had the ability to back up their abrasive natures. He stopped short of saying it but I think he knows deep down that with Brown in his side he’d be a Premier League winning manager.
There was (eventually) a question about Dundee. Rodgers recognised they got a decent result at the weekend but you just sense that he knows his young side are just about to come to the boil. Players are coming back at the right time. The intensity and the fluency are returning to our play. This is most thrilling part of the season, the chance of a historic double treble.