BRENDAN RODGERS smiled and joked that he thought Celtic fans had forgotten his name amid the title celebrations at Rugby Park on Wednesday May 15 2024.

The champions, enjoying their third successive crown and their twelfth in 13 years, had just romped to an unstoppable 5-0 triumph over routed Kilmarnock at a venue where they had been knocked out of the League Cup in August and suffered their first Premiership defeat in December.

On this occasion, though, there was no sign of a banana skin as the visitors raced to a three-goal by the 35th minute following strikes from Adam Idah, Daizen Maeda and James Forrest.

Matt O’Riley added two more after the interval to emphasise Celtic’s superiority as they claimed the silverware for the 54th time in their glorious history.

JUST CHAMPION…Brendan Rodgers applauds the fans after Celtic’s 5-0 romp against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on May 15.

Asked about hearing the fans chanting his name again, Rodgers grinned: “It felt really good. I thought they forgot the name!

“But listen it was about the team this evening and the support staff…so good.

“There was so much stuff in the first six months it felt a little bit awkward, to be honest.

“There was a lot of challenge from a management perspective this season, a lot of tedious stuff that took place this season. I’ve never had that before in my career.”

Rodgers and the Hoops had underlined their intentions four days earlier with a 2-1 victory over Philippe Clement’s faltering Ibrox side at Parkhead.

O’Riley’s clever opener and John Lundstram’s own goal saw the Hoops open up a two-goal advantage before Cyriel Dessers pulled one back for the visitors.

But Lundstram’s red card for a wayward lunge on Alistair Johnston before the break allowed Celtic to dominate the second-half — and close out a victory that sees them six points and seven goals better off than their nearest challengers with two games remaining.

The job was completed in Ayrshire, but, before that five-goal rout, Rodgers could not resist taking a sideswipe at his critics, including former Celtic striker Chris Sutton who accused the Northern Irishman of “going through the motions”.

Quizzed if he felt people had doubted him, Rodgers replied: “I suppose it is part of the game. From a professional perspective, of course, there will be doubt.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS…a beaming Brendan Rodgers after the title had been secured.

“From a personal perspective, I was surprised in a way that I heard somebody say about ‘Brendan Rodgers going through the motions’ earlier on in the season.

“I get to work between half-seven and eight o’clock every day of my life. I leave the training ground between half-six and seven o’clock at night. And when I get home, I have my dinner and probably flip on the computer and look at more football.

“If that is going through the motions, I want to know what every other manager is doing. Because what is every other manager doing if I am ‘going through the motions’?”.

Warming to the theme, Rodgers continued: “From a personal level, I have been treated like a novice since I came back here, like it’s my first job.

“However, my principal objective is to make sure Celtic win. Part of that is the criticism and I understand that, but it’s the mentality of the team that is the most important thing.

“And you can see that mentality from where we were with injuries, how we have progressed, how we have stayed unified, how we stayed together and how we then get to this point where we are nearly crossing the finishing line.

“And we don’t just want to cross it, we want to sprint over it. We have two games to go plus a Scottish Cup Final and that is our mentality.”

There was pressure on Rodgers after the side dropped six points in the space of a week when they lost back-to-back games against Kilmarnock and Hearts before the turn of the year. An Ibrox side, reinvigorated by Belgian Clement after he had replaced Michael Beale in October, managed to turn a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead.

BALL BHOY…Brendan Rodgers makes sure there is no break in the action.

Asked how he dealt with the strain, Rodgers answered: “A lot of the players, I hadn’t worked with before, so they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them.

“Then we lost really important players who make the football shine in this place. So, that, added to the injuries we’ve had, made it a real challenge from a management perspective.

“But I’ve never ever doubted, since I’ve been a young coach, the process. And I felt: ‘Just keeping chipping away, the guys will come back at some point’. We just had to keep believing and working hard.

“Slowly we found a rhythm and now we sit here with eight wins out of the last nine. And the one we didn’t win was a really good performance in the 3-3 draw against Rangers at Ibrox.”

Reflecting on the derbies, Rodgers, who has claimed 13 wins in 17 games with one loss, said: “You know as a Celtic manager, it’s a big part of your life here.

“You’re judged on these games. But I’m just happy for the supporters.

“I’ve been there. I’ve stood in pubs all over the world or sat in living-rooms nervous as anything about these games. You know the joy and happiness you can bring to the lives of the supporters worldwide on the basis of winning these games.

“So, my record in them makes me proud. But I don’t look back, my job here is to develop the mentality and keep striving to win many more.”

Rodgers was echoing his sentiments of April 7 following a dramatic see-sawing 3-3 stalemate at Ibrox where the visitors had led twice and had been undone by a stoppage-time equaliser by the hosts who embarked on an ill-advised last of honour after the final whistle.

DERBY DAZE…Brendan Rodgers and Philippe Clement, rivals on the touchline.

Celtic dominated the first 45 minutes after taking the advantage in 21 SECONDS with Daizen Maeda’s goal, a quickfire reward for the Japanese ace’s persistence in chasing down seemingly lost causes.

Matt O’Riley dinked in a cute penalty-kick after the penny eventually dropped on home centre-back Connor Goldson that he cannot expect to get away with displaying his basketball skills in every derby confrontation.

The inevitable spot-kick award to the hosts arrived with the pathetic Fabio Silva took yet another dive after Alistair Johnston had knocked the ball away in a tackle, but the defender wasn’t savvy enough to make sure his outstretched leg could not be utilised by the Portuguese.

The on-loan Wolves attacker did what he does best and collapsed writhing in imagined pain, referee John Beaton flashed a yellow card after yet another act of simulation, VAR’s Nick Walsh intervened, a quick review on the monitor was carried out and, surprise, surprise, the match official returned to the field, scrapped the booking and pointed to the spot.

James Tavernier didn’t even have the good grace to look embarrassed as he thrashed the ball high into Joe Hart’s net.

The 87th-minute equaliser was a personal disaster for Callum McGregor, who had replaced the tiring Reo Hatate just over 20 minutes earlier.

Abdallah Sima took the credit for the effort that obviously took a wicked deflection off the toe of the skipper’s boot to leave his keeper stranded.

PARADISE…Brendan Rodgers salutes 60,000 Celtic fans at Parkhead at the end of the league season.

Adam Idah, a second-half replacement for Kyogo Furuhashi, whipped one low past Butland 71 seconds later to restore the Hoops’ lead, but some remarkably slack defensive play from Yang Hyun-jun allowed Rabbi Motondo the freedom of the city to wallop in the goal that robbed the visitors of all three points.

Undeterred, Rodgers said: “It puts us in a really strong position. We still have a lot of work to do, still six games to go.

“But when you have your nearest rival still to play at home in front of 60-odd thousand and you know you’re going to be stronger again to that moment, I’m very happy with that.

“I said to the players afterwards, I can see they were disappointed they had not won.

“For a team that has been written off and told they are going through the motions all year, I think we definitely turned up. This is the business end of the season and we are ready to turn up.”

The gaffer added: “Listen, I’m not disappointed. Clearly, the game went on for another eight minutes, so the game’s never done until the final whistle.

“But we kept fighting and kept pushing and these games now with no supporters – and thankfully it’s the last games without the supporters – we had to stand up and be counted and the players did that. You saw that in the first-half.

KINGS AGAIN…a delighted Brendan Rodgers acknowledges the Celtic support after the champions’ third successive title.

“I’m super proud of the team, how we played and managed the occasion. The first-half was absolutely brilliant. Couldn’t have been more comfortable in the game.

“Some of the level of our football, we attacked with the ball, attacked without it, and could’ve been more comfortable by half time.

“But the whole thing was leaving here with the performance and still with everything in our hands. I think what we showed was that the level of our football, players coming back to fitness, how we could deal with pressure and manage the pressure. So proud of the team.”

There was no reason for Rodgers to change his thinking when the final whistle blew on an often-traumatic Premiership campaign following the 3-2 win over St Mirren at an all-singing and all-dancing Parkhead on May 18.
*TOMORROW: Don’t miss the twentieth and concluding instalment of the remarkable Brendan Rodgers Story so far.
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