IN the final hours of any year, it’s a time to reflect on the previous 12 months, and look ahead to what the immediate future has in store.
On both fronts, it’s a good time to be a Celtic fan.
The high of 2017 was the achievement of the Hoops on the domestic front.
To stretch their unbeaten run to 69 games was remarkable, and to become Invincibles was also incredible.
They won the Treble and are very much on course to do it again.
Brendan Rodgers and his players also managed to secure Champions League football for the second season on the trot.
That brings extra credibility to the club and to Scottish football.
It is also hugely beneficial to the bank balance of Celtic, and the other clubs in the country get a spin-off in excess of £300,000 from UEFA.
Across the city, Rangers appointed Pedro Caixinha, and then sacked him in the same year.
It just didn’t work out on a number of levels for the Portuguese.
Graeme Murty now has the job until May, and he deserves a crack at it.
There doesn’t appear to be any set targets for him to secure the job on a longer contract, but finishing second in the Premier League and getting to the Scottish Cup Final in May would be progress, for sure.
So whether Graeme is first-team manager for next season remains to be seen.
However, whatever happens, I hope he is allowed to go back to go back to his old job as Under-20s coach if he so wishes.
Having acted as interim boss on either side of Caixinha’s time in charge, he absolutely deserves to make his own call on that.
In the past three or four years, Aberdeen provided the main challenge to Celtic, to the point where both Sunderland and Rangers wanted Derek McInnes to leave Pittodrie to become their manager.
He decided to stay put, and it will be interesting to see what he does if there is another move for him in 2018.
Off the park, the club is trying to secure planning permission for a new stadium and training complex.
If their ambitious plans are given the green light, I’m fairly sure that will delight Derek.
Every manager wants a good facility to work at every day, and so do the players.
So, all round, it’s an important year for the wider future of the Dons.
There have been other positives around the country.
Tommy Wright continues to do very well at St Johnstone, and for their first season back in the top flight under Neil Lennon, Hibs have been brilliant and played some entertaining football.
Kilmarnock appear to be heading in the right direction, and the appointment of Stevie Clarke has been a masterstroke by the Rugby Park board. Scottish football has also benefitted from having someone of Stevie’s calibre in the game.
It hasn’t been the easiest of periods for Hearts. They parted company with Ian Cathro and also had problems with the redevelopment of their new Main Stand.
They will hope that 2018 runs more smoothly for them with Craig Levein in charge, and that the stadium remains up there with the very best in the UK for atmosphere.
It’s also been a delight to see them blood Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald.
Indeed, many Scottish Premiership clubs have been giving youngsters a chance.
It’s good to see Oli Shaw at Hibs, Aberdeen’s Scott Wright and Allan Campbell and Craig Tanner at Motherwell all doing well.
There are a few lads at Killie, Hamilton, Dundee and Ross County also in the mix.
Giving the kids a chance gives hope to other lads of the same age up and down the country.
It also encourages other coaches to do the same.
Ross McCrorie has been a real find at Rangers. He has excellent positional sense and looks to have all the credentials to be a star.
At Celtic, Kieran Tierney continues to excel.
Of course, the question at Parkhead will be where are the next one or two to push their way through. There’s been enough time to develop more of their own.
Maybe we will see two or three more youngsters force their way into the Scotland international team.
The next two years is an absolutely crucial period for our national game.
We need to find a manager to replace Gordon Strachan, and I’d like to see that done sooner rather than later. Why the hold-up on this important matter?
When the new fella is in charge, we need to get off to a good start in the Euro 2020 section.
I know we have been saying this for almost two decades, but it is vital we qualify for a major tournament.
We certainly improved under Gordon and the 3-0 win away in Lithuania was as good a Scotland performance as I’ve seen in a number of years.
We were very unfortunate not to make the play-offs.
But, now, we need to get to the next level. It’s paramount. It will give the whole nation a huge lift.
Football is the main sport in Scotland, and the national team can work wonders for the feelgood factor of people going about their everyday lives.
So, lads, the whole nation is behind you – be positive and go do it.
A Happy and Healthy New Year to you all.
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