JAMES FORREST is on course to eclipse Celtic great Billy McNeill’s trophy haul.
The unassuming winger has lifted 22 domestic honours, the same total amassed by the Lisbon Lion in his playing days.
However, McNeill is one ahead after guiding Jock Stein’s all-conquering team to their historic European Cup triumph in Lisbon on May 25 1967.
Forrest, at 32, has time on his side as he zeroes in on the silverware tally of the club’s iconic skipper who was 35 when he decided to hang up his boots after the Parkhead club’s 3-1 Scottish Cup Final victory over Airdrie at Hampden on May 3 1975.
HAIL CAESAR…Celtic legend Billy McNeill holds aloft the European Cup in Lisbon on May 25 1967.
Both players are one-club men and the Scotland international forward picked up his sixth medal in the soccer showpiece in the Hoops’ 3-1 win over Inverness Caley Thistle at the national stadium on June 3.
Forrest was used sparingly by Ange Postecoglou during the campaign, but he still managed to notch his 100th goal for the club when he thumped in a glorious hat-trick in the 6-1 league triumph over Hibs at Parkhead in October last year.
The loyal wide Bhoy is raring to go again as he hooks up once more with Brendan Rodgers and he insisted: “It’s been incredible for me. I’ve seen players come to Celtic later in their careers when they haven’t won any trophies.
“People ask me if it was frustrating not playing as much as I would have liked last season.
“But they have to realise I’m older now. I have played a lot of games throughout my whole career – and won a lot of trophies.
“It’s been a really good career. I want to keep playing as much as I can, and it’s hard weighing up everything sometimes, but being at this club has been unbelievable.
CHAMPIONS…James Forrest and Callum McGregor hold the Premiership silverware after Celtic’s eleventh title success in 12 years.
“I’ve never got blasé about that, about winning trophies and picking up medals.
“Sometimes the press guys tell me that I’ve reached a particular milestone, or achieved something, and it’s always good to hear.
“I’m never thinking about that sort of thing. But when someone mentions something then I stop and think about how unbelievable it is.
“When you get older, you realise how hard it is being at a club like Celtic. It’s quite scary to think how long I’ve been here now.
“Coming through the youth team, too, you are always expected to win. Then when you do that, it’s like: ‘How many did you win by?’.
“That’s the mentality and how you’re brought up.
“So, it’s like you always feel you need to keep winning and striving for more. Also, when you don’t win one of the trophies it also makes you appreciate the ones you do.”
Reflecting on his two years with Postecoglou in charge, Forrest, speaking to The Scottish Sun, said: “Every manager is different. The last gaffer was different in his way, but then you knew where you stood.
“You knew what was going on and just had to work hard in training.
“He wasn’t really the type of manager you could go and chap his door. You just had to keep working hard in training and that was fine.
“But I felt involved last season. I maybe didn’t start as many games as I would have wanted to, but we have so many good players and the team was flying.
CENTURY BHOY…James Forrest yells with joy after claiming his 100th Celtic goal in the 6-1 win over Hibs at Parkhead on October 15 2022.
“I felt I did contribute at times when I was picked. And I definitely felt like I learned under him.
“I enjoyed the last two years and took so many positives from that time. If you ask any player, they will always say they would liked to have played more.
“I was fit for the first half of the season right up until February time and felt involved.
“I just didn’t start as much as I’d have liked and that as was a bit frustrating. I had to wait for a chance.
“That opportunity didn’t come a lot for me because the players ahead of me were doing so well.
“But the feeling was good among the team and it was still great being a part of it.”
Just before Rodgers arrived at Parkhead first time-around in May 2016 as he replaced Ronny Deila, Forrest admitted he was considering his future.
He said: “Maybe in my head the most uncertainty I’ve had was when the gaffer now was coming in to the club the first time.
“But then within a week I knew there was no questions on my side.
“I knew what I wanted and it wasn’t just me, either. There were other boys at that time who raised their game and he got a lot out of them. He really brought everyone’s potential out of them.
“So, with that in mind, I think it’s really good for the young boys here now that the gaffer has come back.
GOAL-DEN BHOY…Kyogo Furuhashi congratulates James Forrest after the winger’s winning strike against St Johnstone in the League Cup semi-final at Hampden on November 20 2021.
“Everyone did really well under the last manager, obviously. But there are a few of them who can kick on again now and that’s great for the club.
“I’ve had a few managers down the years, but this gaffer is just brilliant at the man-management side of the game. Tactically, he’s fantastic, as well.
“He’s just a top manager all round and he makes you feel good about yourself. He knows everyone’s qualities and makes the boys really believe in themselves.
“And it’s not just at Celtic where he’s done that.
“So, the boys who haven’t worked with him before will find it’s really good.”
Forrest has a testimonial match against Athletic Bilbao a week today and he added: “It’s going to be a great occasion. It will be class for my family, too.
“I’m looking forward to it, but at the same time I’m also looking forward to when it’s done!
“Not many players are fortunate enough to get a testimonial these days.”
*JAMES FORREST’S testimonial match on Tuesday August 1 will kick off at 7.30pm. A significant proportion of funds raised will be donated to two charities, Kilbryde Hospice and Celtic FC Foundation. For ticket information: celticfc.com.