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Groundhog day at Celtic Park

THE SPFL Premiership trophy is actually owned by all clubs equally, even if these days only one of them ever gets possession of it.

WINNING MENTALITY: an aversion to losing has driven Celtic on this season, according to Scott Brown. Picture: SNS
WINNING MENTALITY: an aversion to losing has driven Celtic on this season, according to Scott Brown. Picture: SNS

The silverware cannot be said to have permanent residence in the boardroom at Celtic Park because the cub do have to go through the formality of returning it to the league governing body at Hampden every year. They check it for bumps and scrapes, put green-and-white ribbons on it and, when the time is right, they dutifully give it back to Celtic.

Tomorrow is another handover day, Celtic's third in a row, when a fuss will be made about something which was as inevitable as the daily setting of the sun. The club's lead of 28 points is already the highest in top- flight history and they will extend that if they beat Dundee United in the season's final game and Aberdeen drop points at home to Motherwell. Celtic formally clinched the title at Firhill on March 26, seven games ago, and have already waited 44 days for the physical reward they will lift above their heads amid great fanfare.

Gone are the days when the champions received the trophy on a small wooden table near the side of the pitch, with little more than a stiff handshake between the president of the Scottish Football League and the beaming chairman/manager/captain. An entire day is built around the event by club marketing people in the modern era. According to the Celtic advertising, tomorrow is "Trophy Day" with fans being told "you're invited to the party".

So how many more of these will there be for Celtic? No club will live with them in the foreseeable future except for a rejuvenated Rangers, a club which seems incapable of rejuvenation. Celtic are not even a third of the way towards 10-in-a-row but speculation about that epic target being reached is premature yet legitimate. "

Keeping the title drives us on," said Scott Brown, who, as captain, will be the first Celtic player to get his hands on the trophy tomorrow. "But we're not saying 'we're going to go on and win 10 in a row and it's going to be easy for us'. We're just looking one step at a time. We'll try and go for four in a row and take it from there.

"Hopefully we can keep this bunch of lads together and keep things going. It's going to be hard because people are going to want to buy the likes of Fraser Forster, Kris Commons and big Virgil van Dijk as well."

Celtic's statistics are formidable: 30 wins out of 37, only one defeat, 99 goals scored, a goal difference of plus 75 and 96 points harvested. Neil Lennon, the manager, said he had been pleased with the vast majority of their league performances. In domestic terms they had fallen below their own standards only in the Scottish Cup defeat at home to Aberdeen in February, he said. As far as he was concerned, the single league defeat, also to Aberdeen in February, by 2-1, had been unjust because Celtic had applied lots of second-half pressure despite an early red card for van Dijk. "To lose one league game up until now has been really impressive. Over the course of the domestic season I've only been disappointed with the odd game here and there, the rest of the games we've been well on top.

"I've been really proud of some of their performances, the consistency, the clean-sheet record, the amount of goals they've scored, the amount of goals they've conceded. It can't be easy for them, being so far in front, because subconsciously you do tend to switch off. But as a group they have kept their concentration going very, very well. And they've played some great football in the second half of the year."

Above all, their 2013-14 title has been a triumph of self-motivation. Celtic have kept going, kept winning, without the spur of a challenger breathing down their necks. They have done so through their own professionalism.

"It's hard for everyone to keep going," said Brown. "But we've done that throughout the whole season. We can't get to that 100-point mark now and we're disappointed with that but overall it's been a fantastic season. Everyone in that dressing room came to Celtic because it's a big club and they want to win trophies. They want to win games. We don't like getting beaten. We don't want to go into that dressing room on a Monday, or whenever, after a defeat and being on a downer. We want to be chirpy and enjoying banter.

"We're looking forward to getting our hands on the trophy. It's been a long time; we won the league back in March. It's going to be a great occasion, not just for us but the fans who have supported us every week. It's been very enjoyable. It's definitely been my most consistent season yet."

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