‘Grind of season ends in glorious Celtic flourish’

  • 15 May 2024

At the end, as Celtic fans serenaded their champions and Kilmarnock supporters stood and applauded players who have given them so much this season, Brendan Rodgers and his captain Callum McGregor were locked in a hug on the sideline.

They had a little chat, another embrace, and then went away to join the party.

Or the warm-up to the party, which will take place in earnest at the weekend when Celtic will celebrate in their own place in front of 60,000 of their own people.

On the artificial surface of Rugby Park we saw the real thing from Celtic, certainly in a devastating first half when they scored three and might have had five.

It was the kind of thunder on title-winning night that was reminiscent of the best of the Ange Postecoglou years, while holding similarities to the pick of Rodgers in his invincible pomp in 2016-17.

Celtic donned the t-shirts of champions and went down the away end, illuminated by red pyrotechnics.

Some paper, or flags, caught fire and stewards arrived with extinguishers. Captain Conker, the Killie mascot, looked on as Celtic whooped it up.

Joe Hart threw his gloves to some kids and then returned to the bosom of his team-mates with a banner that read ‘Champions’.

Celtic have had a long and exacting season and they milked this. Why not?

On his 59th game of the season for club and country, Adam Idah began this rout, an eighth goal of the season for the 23-year-old with the potential to be a powerhouse, should Celtic stump up the cash to sign him in the summer.

That’s a question for a coming day, but not for this day or the next day when they will be presented with the league title for the 12th time in 13 seasons.

Then it was Daizen Maeda with the second, and after that the evergreen James Forrest with the third.

Rodgers’ front three had all scored inside 35 minutes. It was breathless and relentless, accurate and lovely to watch.

Matt O’Riley smashed in numbers four and five or numbers 17 and 18 for the season. Bought for £1.5m or thereabouts and still only 23, O’Riley’s capture was not so much a football signing as a football heist, a spectacular piece of business.

Rodgers’ side overcome doubts to triumph

Kilmarnock have had an outstanding season, but this was a game too far against an opponent who came here with a rage for goals.

Before kick-off, Rodgers had described the season as “very challenging” and a “little bit tedious.” Not vintage, said the Celtic manager.

He might have had previous visits to Rugby Park in mind when he said it – and no wonder. This had been an uncomfortable place for Celtic this season. Derek McInnes has been one of their bogey rival managers.

What unfolded in the first half was the polar opposite of what went on before.

The sights and sounds of Rugby Park were a contrast, too. Celtic in full flow were so easy on the eye, banging in high-class goals and accelerating across the winning line in the way their manager asked them to.

The ugly flip side was the chanting of the dismal element among the visiting support. An assault on the ears, a tiresome din.

The celebration carried on for an age, a reflection, perhaps, of how draining this season has been for Celtic, how punishing on many fronts this title win has been.

Rodgers’ use of the word ‘tedious’ was interesting in the preamble, an illustration of how deep the Celtic manager has had to dig to get his players over the line.

They’re there now and have a big day to come at home against St Mirren on Saturday to round it all off.

Nearly everybody doubted them somewhere along the line this season – sections of their own support chief among them.

Maybe they doubted themselves as well at various times, but they showed steel when they needed and they showed class at Kilmarnock.

A grind of a league season sealed with a gorgeous flourish.

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