JONNY HAYES believes Celtic are on course for their TENTH successive title.
And the Republic of Ireland international, who bade an emotional farewell to the club at the weekend after three years’ service, insists they will not have to splash the cash to make history.
Hayes, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday next month, won six trophies at the Hoops, including making 13 appearances in the Premiership this season as well as playing in the Betfred League Cup Final triumph over Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox outfit in December.
And, although he is disappointed to be leaving at the conclusion of his contract, he insists Neil Lennon’s men will continue on the silverware sweep in the domestic game.
Brendan Rodgers spent £1.3million for the versatile left-sided performer in June 2017 and the player has been linked with a possible return to Pittodrie.
CUP THAT CHEERS…Jonny Hayes aloft the newly-won Betfred League Cup trophy.
Hayes, speaking to the Scottish Sun, said: “It’s going to be a tough task to stop Celtic given the gulf in financial capabilities between them and Rangers and the club’s been well run for a number of years.
“I’m sure if need be the club could probably go in and spend X amount of millions on players. That’s if they need to. At the minute, I don’t think they need to.
“Celtic were 13 points ahead in the season just finished and that gap would only have got bigger until the end of the season.
“That’s how confident we felt in the dressing room at the time, that we wanted to continue playing the games and finish the league winning. We didn’t feel any danger.
“So, it will be a tough task to stop Celtic. I’m talking also about other clubs. The onus isn’t just on Rangers — it’s also on Motherwell, Aberdeen, Hibs etc, to put up more of a fight.
“I think the 10 in a row season will definitely put a bigger target on Celtic’s back.
“But I’ve seen the dressing room and I’m sure Scott Brown will have the boys ready to go and extra-motivated to go and get that achievement.”
Hayes scoffed at remarks from former team-mate Gareth McAuley’s claim the Hoops’ ninth successive title was “tainted and hollow”.
He said: “Me and Gareth were at Leicester together. I think that could be him just playing up to the media a bit.
“I can’t see why it would be tainted or asterisked.
“If I was a Rangers fan, I’d probably have wanted the league finished. They can have their own opinion.
“But, for me, if the league had finished, the points tally would have been bigger. And probably by 20 points.”
ON THE BALL…Jonny Hayes races away from James Tavernier as he helps the Hoops to their 1-0 Hampden success in December.
Hayes added: “Over the last decade, I’ve tried to get fitter and fitter every season. I picked up a bit from Scott Brown. As he gets older, he gets fitter.
“There’s no doubts in my mind whether I could continue playing at a high level. I feel fitter than ever and still feel quick.
“The highlight of my career was having my five-year-old son Jackson on the pitch after the Scottish Cup Final last year, probably against the SFA stewards’ wishes!
“He kicked the ball into the empty net and the Celtic fans gave him a cheer. I don’t think I’ll ever top that.
“Being from Dublin, and having family members who were big Celtic fans, I knew what it meant to go there.
“People can never take my medals from me. I’m grateful. I leave on great terms and with great respect for everyone there.”
Hayes is now looking to the future and has been linked with a possible reunion with his Hoops buddy Scott Sinclair at Preston in the English Championship.
In December, there were reports Stole City, Cardiff City and Blackburn Rovers were also monitoring his situation as he headed into the last five months of his Celtic contract.