Celtic face harder battles after winning the double

 

Celtic's Scottish Cup final victory was as comprehensive as it was predictable.

There have been occasions this season when Celtic have failed to perform to the standards expected of them and, as a result, have lost matches they should have won - the Communities League Cup semi-final defeat by St Mirren a prime example.

But, on Sunday at Hampden, they were thoroughly professional and, from the moment Gary Hooper netted his first goal, the result was not in doubt.

So, a domestic double to end a season that began with widespread expectation of dominance on the home front.

In many ways, Celtic were on a hiding to nothing this season, with Rangers' absence from the Scottish Premier League and much-weakened squad ensuring they wouldn't be a threat in the cup competitions.

But any suggestion that the failure to deliver a domestic treble was indeed a failure is fatuous.

Neil Lennon's side may not have romped to the SPL title in the style some expected, but in unique circumstances they comfortably defended their crown.

Gary Hooper (right) celebrates at Hampden

Hooper (right) could be a summer departure from Celtic Park

Clearly, their European exploits represent the pinnacle of their achievements, so the obvious question is how to follow that next season.

Celtic supporters must be desperately hoping for a quiet summer, but their manager and several players have raised their reputation this season and the club's chief executive, Peter Lawwell, may have to fend off interest from England and beyond in the coming months.

The prospect of Champions League football again and the cache of representing a club the size of Celtic are significant draws, but as hard as it may be for some Celtic fans to stomach, there is a glass ceiling in Scotland, particularly when the SPL is a one-horse race.

So, while there can be little doubt Lennon, Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and others are genuinely happy at the club, few would grudge them the opportunity to move to the Premier League in England or another of Europe's top leagues to test and improve themselves.

It is virtually inconceivable there will be no high-profile departures this close season, but the Celtic support can take solace from the fact the club will have contingency plans in place for any eventuality, whether it be the loss of Lennon, Hooper or Fraser Forster.

The club's scouting network has become so successful that the man who orchestrates it - John Park - has won nearly as many plaudits as his on-field club-mates.

So, while no Celtic fan will want to see any of their key players depart, they know that, if they do, it's likely to mean a sizeable profit for the club and the arrival of another potentially exciting replacement.

The crucial thing, though, is negotiating the three Champions League qualifying rounds successfully.

Like it or not, Celtic carry the hopes of the nation on their shoulders in those matches, because they represent the only realistic hope of European football beyond the end of August.

And, with the destiny of the SPL title is certain to be a formality once more next season, a campaign without Champions League football doesn't bear thinking about.