Dignity That Neil Showed When We Shocked Celts at Hampden Will Live with Me FOREVER; LEAGUE CUP SPECIAL... County Chief MacGregor Backs Under-Fire Lennon

Article excerpt

ROSS COUNTY v CELTIC BY RAY WILSON sport@dailyrecord.co.uk Tonight, Victoria Park, 7.15pm ROY MacGREGOR saw exactly what Neil Lennon was made of as knives were sharpened in the aftermath of a Scottish Cup disaster.

The Ross County chairman was at the Celtic manager's side as he spoke with wounded humility after his Hampden Park nightmare in April last year.

The First Division side had just stunned the Hoops 2-0 in a Scottish Cup semi-final and, only six weeks into the job, Lennon didn't know whether he would still be Celtic manager come the morning.

But the power and honesty of Lennon's words in defeat will always live with County chief MacGregor.

Long before the bombs, bullets and death threats tested the Celtic manager's resolve, MacGregor reckons Lennon was showing his true character and mettle.

So as the flak flies once again after the Parkhead club's misery in Madrid and ignominy at Ibrox, MacGregor insists it would be folly to write off the Northern Irishman. In fact, the multi-millionaire County chairman reckons the Celtic boss is here for the long haul.

He said: "I'll never forget the way Neil spoke after our victory in that semi-final down at Hampden Park.

"I got a true glimpse that day of his strength of character - and what he is about as a man and as a manager.

AUTHORITY "For a young manager like Neil, barely a month in the job, the shock of that defeat might have proved a fatal body-blow.

"He could easily have hit out or lost his composure in his interviews but he didn't duck anything.

"To this day, I'm really moved by his comments and the way he spoke with such dignity amid the crushing disappointment.

"Even at that low moment, he found time to praise Ross County. Neil takes a lot of criticism and hassle. He is regarded in some quarters as a bit of a rascal.

"But I stood right beside him waiting for my own TV interview and the graciousness of the man and his honesty will always live with me."

MacGregor reckons Lennon would have treated tonight's League Cup tie with the utmost seriousness even if Celtic had beaten Atletico Madrid and Rangers.

The head of the vast Global Energy Group of companies said: "Neil has now stamped his authority on Celtic.

"They have had their difficulties in the last few days but I have no doubt Neil will have worked on the players and have them fully prepared for this match.

"I suspect it's a big one for Neil on a personal level and I'm sure he will have reminded his players of just what Celtic endured that day at Hampden Park. …