GLASGOW: Celtic can take their domestic dominance in Scotland to a new level on Saturday as they aim to complete a third consecutive treble against Hearts in the Scottish Cup final.
No team apart from Celtic or Rangers have won league title since 1985 but before Brendan Rodgers’s arrival as manager in 2016, Celtic had won the domestic treble of league, Scottish Cup and League Cup just three times in the club’s history.
Rodgers led a clean sweep of silverware in 2016/17 and 2017/18 but even his mid-season departure for Leicester has not derailed the Scottish champions as they chase history.
There is still speculation and uncertainty around who will permanently replace the former Liverpool boss.
Caretaker manager Neil Lennon stepped in at short notice in February and ensured an eight-point lead in the league was converted into an eighth straight title.
In his second spell in charge, Lennon has also kept Celtic on course in the Scottish Cup, with comprehensive wins over Hibs and Aberdeen.
Yet many fans remain unconvinced that the Northern Irishman is the man to trust with a bid for a record-equalling nine-in-a-row next season or to turn domestic dominance into better results in Europe.
Lennon’s only defeat since returning came to fierce rivals Rangers two weeks ago, but his team selections and style of play have also been questioned, with three 0-0 draws in his 13 games in charge.
“There’s always going to be criticism but if it was that easy, a team would have done it before,” said winger Scott Sinclair at the prospect of picking up his ninth trophy in three seasons in Scotland. “No one has done it, so it goes to show that it’s tough.”
Lennon’s task has been complicated by injuries to key men, including Kieran Tierney, and the awkward challenge of weighing up whether to give playing time to younger players over loanees who will soon return to their parent clubs.
Tierney was one of the shining lights of the past two treble-winning campaigns and may have already made a big-money move to the Premier League but for his emotional ties to his boyhood club.
A double hernia operation will see the left-back miss Steve Clarke’s first two games as Scotland manager, but Tierney has passed himself fit for Saturday’s final and insists Celtic’s thirst for success is not nearly quenched.
“For me, with every single trophy, it gets better each time,” said Tierney.
“You want that more and more and we know how good a feeling it is to win. The feeling is so sweet, you work hard all season, and a trophy to finish is enough motivation.”
Hearts are hoping for their first trophy since thrashing Edinburgh rivals Hibs 5-1 in the 2012 Scottish Cup final.
Both sides named much-changed teams as Celtic won a dress rehearsal to end the league season 2-1 last weekend that completed a terrible end to the campaign for Craig Levein’s men.
Hearts took just one point from their last seven league games either side of a cup semi-final win over Championship side Inverness.
But Scottish international John Souttar believes Hearts can shock Celtic at Hampden.
“A cup final is a one-off game. I think the league form and what you’ve done in the past goes out the window,” said Souttar.
“We’ve got to go and believe in ourselves that we can win. In football, a lot of upsets have happened recently.”