SEEING Celtic clinch their third consecutive Scottish title this season would have been special for Brendan Rodgers wherever and whenever it happened because of the unprecedented challenges he has faced since being appointed manager for a second time in June last year.

But the resounding 5-0 triumph over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park last night – a result which sent the Parkhead club six points clear of Rangers at the top of the cinch Premiership table with one league fixture remaining – proved to be an emotional experience for other reasons.

Rodgers, the boyhood fan from Carnlough in Northern Ireland who grew reading about the Glasgow giants’ storied past, knows his history so the occasion had an added poignancy for him.

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“I think it was a really nostalgic day,” he said. “It started at Seamill. We had our pre-match there. It’s where I used to look at pictures of Jock Stein and those players. They used to do pre-season there.

“Then coming to the stadium knowing there was a tribute to Tommy (former Celtic and Kilmarnock player and manager Burns). To get the victory in the style of which he’d have loved watching was really special.”

The Herald: Brendan Rodgers salutes the Celtic fans at Rugby Park after the Parkhead club's third consecutiveCeltic produced arguably their best display of the 2023/24 campaign down in Ayrshire to finally get over the line. Stein and Burns, whose teams were renowned for playing swashbuckling and entertaining football, would have been proud of the performance.

It was a time for Rodgers, his players and their supporters to celebrate, not to score points, afterwards and they duly did so and then some.

Yet, an individual who has endured so much during the past 10 months would have been quite entitled to have a pop at his critics afterwards if he had so desired. His style of play, his commitment to the cause and even his professionalism have all been called into question during what has been a tumultuous term. He has proved his doubters emphatically wrong.  

The 51-year-old has also had to deal with, and win around, those who remained aggrieved about him departing for Leicester City before the end of the 2018/19 campaign and were vehemently opposed to him replacing Ange Postecoglou. He has surely now done so.

“I put myself under pressure, “ he said. “But I’m happy with that. It’s never bothered me. I feel it’s when I’m at my best. Thankfully, I was able to make that true and bring it home for them.

“When I look at the titles they’ve all been special, but this has been the most challenging for so many reasons and some out of football. I’ve never had my style focused on so much.

“As a coach who broke through and became a manager at 35, my key reference has been my style. So to come here and have the accusation about my style not fitting felt strange.

“But I knew from what the team was missing it would come and we now look like we are at the start of the season. I don’t think anyone could complain about the style on this surface.”

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Asked if it was one of the most satisfying successes of his trophy-laden career because of the scrutiny he has been under, the hurdles he has had to overcome and the controversies which have arisen, he said: “There’s no doubt.

“I was tested for lots of pressure. I think the awkwardness of it. I totally respect that of the supporters and the feeling they might have had and that lingered on.

“There were moments in the stadium and I knew my job was to somehow pull this together and we’ve been able to do that. The staff, we stayed unified, the players stayed with the process and they’ve been able to perform.

“I think every season you have is a learning season and there are all the things flying about. Things like ‘he’s never been in a pressure situation’ or ‘he’s never had this challenge before’. But I never doubt. I have complete faith in my work and what I do and it was just about time and we came through when it mattered.”

The Herald: The Celtic fans who filled every seat in the Chadwick Stand chanted Rodgers’ name for the first time since his contentious return to Paradise after referee Don Robertson had blown the final whistle.

It was a definite indication that his past misdemeanours have been forgiven and forgotten.

He remains, however, cognisant of the need to foster that new-found affinity and will quickly turn his attentions to trying to beat Rangers in the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup final at Hampden a week on Saturday and completing a double.

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“Well, hopefully it can get back to that,” he said. “But I have to earn that. Nights like that, performances like that, builds that bond back closer again. There might be some guys who might never understand and might never turn, but I’ll cope with that the best I can and in the meantime I’ll prepare this team to win and be successful."

Celtic, who won against Kilmarnock thanks to first-half goals from Adam Idah, Daizen Maeda and James Forrest and a second-half double from Matt O’Riley, set a very high bar last night. Their manager is keen for them to maintain their standards. If they do, they will have more triumphs to cheer about in future.

“These players have dealt with the pressure side of things so well, concentrating on the football,” he said. “Against a team who have hardly conceded, who are so stubborn and hard to beat, how we played through the pressure and level of game was so good.

“The plan would be to get better. There’s happiness and joy. I don’t like losing on trophy day. I want to finish the season stronger. Our whole idea was to sprint over the finishing line. Can we go again on Saturday? Then can we recover for Hampden, which will be an amazing occasion on a big pitch that suits our game?”

The Herald: Celtic striker Adam Idah, centre, celebrates scoring the opening goal against Kilmarnock in the