When the going got tough Kyle Lafferty reckons Celtic were nowhere to be see this season. After helping himself to a Helicopter Sunday hat-trick the Ibrox striker accused Neil Lennon's side of choking as Rangers hit full throttle during the title run-in.
Lafferty rubbed salt in the Hoops' wounds after scoring a sensational Treble against Kilmarnock as Rangers clinched a third consecutive SPL crown. "You're just not good enough" - a play on Celtic's new anthem - screamed the banner in the Rangers end at Rugby Park. And Lafferty was of the same opinion after watching Davie Weir hoist aloft the league trophy.
The Northern Ireland international believes Celtic failed because they simply couldn't match the desire that burns within his own squad. He said: "I think we have been the better team over the course of the season." Even when we weren't playing well we still picked up points. That is one thing Celtic can't do. I think when the going gets tough that's when they fail. "We have the heart and the desire in the team to win games when we're not playing pretty football."
Lafferty also tossed into touch suggestions from Lennon that other teams have given Rangers an easy ride this term. He said: "We can only play who we are up against whether they want to try or not”. "Personally, I think every single team wants to beat Rangers and Celtic so they can have a say in who wins the title. "It's disrespectful to other teams to say they are not trying."
For the third season in a row Lafferty burst to life when the chips were down and when it mattered most. The Ulsterman scored on the last day two seasons ago when Rangers clinched the title and he bagged the goal that secured two in a row at Hibs 12 months ago.
Lafferty was at it again yesterday, netting twice inside the first seven minutes and then crowning his best performance in a Light Blue shirt with a third just after the break. He said: "I don't know what it is about this time of the season. "It's happened in the last three years and I just can't get my head round it. "To be honest I hope it just keeps coming, although I wouldn't mind a few more goals at the start and middle of the season. "It doesn't get any better than this. It is beyond my wildest dreams. "I would have been happy just to score the first goal but to get three was the fulfilment of a boyhood dream. "I struggle to understand why I score so many goals at this stage because I don't enjoy the pressure. "I do the same stuff as I always do in training but it just seems to click for some reason."
Lafferty and his team-mates were itching to give Walter Smith a leaving present to remember, although even they couldn't possibly have envisaged such a perfect send-off. The Northern Irishman will be forever indebted to the departing Ibrox boss, yet judging by the warm embrace they shared at the final whistle, the Gers gaffer was fully appreciative of Lafferty's vital contribution. Lafferty said: "Every player knew what he had to do. We knew if we took three points we would be champions."To be 3-0 up so early in the game was unbelievable, although I thought we took our foot off the gas later in the game.
"Walter is the manager who brought me here. I always dreamed of playing for Rangers and he gave me the chance. I have to thank him for that. "To score three goals in his last game to win the title and three in a row was just amazing. "The players were desperate to win it for Walter and send him off on a high. "We managed to do that and it was great to see him pick up his last trophy for the club. It was a great achievement for him. "He is a legend at the club, although he didn't have to say anything to get us fired up beforehand. "Everybody knows what he has done for Rangers and he deserves everything that comes his way. "I think if we can keep every player and add a few more there is no reason why Ally McCoist can't follow in his footsteps and do the same."
While Rangers handed the initiative to Celtic after drawing the final Old Firm clash of the season, Lafferty never lost faith and always believed mental strength would be the deciding factor. He said: "We knew they had to go to Hearts and that would be a tough game for them. "But Inverness did it for us before then. They were superb for us on the night and deserved the win. "Once it was in our hands we took it away again. "We have been there for the past two years and we know what it's all about. "We have a winning mentality in the team and we don't know when to stop. "Even if we are chasing a game we would always fancy ourselves to score."
Lafferty's seven goals in his last six games proved to be a major reason why Davie Weir was presented with the SPL trophy. But the on-form marksman is the first to concede there would have been no celebrations were it not for the second half of the season goal glut from Nikica Jelavic. He said: "When Kenny Miller was sold in January I think everyone wrote us off but Jelavic is Kenny and Kris Boyd rolled into one. "What Jelavic has done this season has been amazing and it would have been even better if he hadn't been injured for a long spell. "Without him I don't think we would have been celebrating with the trophy today."