McIlroy has pleaded with Lennon not to leave football after the recent bomb threats, and McIlroy remembers well when Lennon last received threats of this kind, as he was the Northern Ireland manager when Lennon retired from the international game in 2002.
“I hope Neil stays in football,” said McIlroy. “What is going on now is totally different to what happened when Neil played for Northern Ireland.
“He was a great guy and professional. It’s just a very sad and unfortunate thing that should never happen to anyone.”
“Neil was a great professional to have in our side and it was only a small group of people who were unhappy he was involved,” added McIlroy.
“They wanted to wreck what we were building and unfortunately for me I had good, experienced players who were retiring at the same time.
“Neil was a quality player and what happened was terrible.
“We had to respect his decision and the Irish Football Association, to their credit, worked very hard to transform the atmosphere at Windsor Park.
“I also gave Paddy McCourt his first cap against Spain at Windsor Park in 2002 and he is another great footballer.
“I just hope there’s an end to what is going on and everyone can be allowed to get on their jobs for club and country.”
Last night after the victory over Kilmarnock, Lennon’s assistant, Johan Mjallby, revealed his close friend was focused on his job despite the threat to his safety.
“He's in a good mood and all he wants to do is prepare the team for the run-in and talk about football.
“Neil's a strong character but it's still a terrible thing.
“It's not a distraction he wants right now but he loves his job as manager of Celtic Football Club and right now he just wants to prepare his players.”
Ally McCoist, who replaces Walter Smith as Ibrox manager next season, said: “I am really, really saddened that this has taken place in Scottish football,” he said.
“We obviously have our differences on the park and that's the beauty of the game.
“You don't agree with everything that is said and done, but you hope we can conduct these conversations and disagreements in the correct manner.”
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