THE last thing that a player needs before walking out at Hampden in a Scottish Cup semi-final is to have any more pressure placed on his shoulders, particularly an added weight of expectation from his own family. But Jonny Hayes has forgiven his son Jackson for doing just that on Sunday.

The four-year-old had a message for his daddy just before the revitalised Celtic winger took to the field to face former club Aberdeen – don’t mess up his chance of a big day out at the final.

Thankfully for the Hayes family, Jonny and his teammates came through in fine style, ensuring that Jackson will have the chance to pull on his Hoops at the national stadium come May.

“My wife sent me a video message just before the game [on Sunday] actually, and it was the little fella saying ‘make sure you win, I want to go the final’,” Hayes said. “She had taken him to the safari park for the day.

“That was probably the biggest pressure I’ve had in a game, thinking about him.

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“I walked in the door on Sunday evening and he was sitting there in his Celtic kit ready to go five weeks early.

“He’s four now, he’s Celtic daft and he absolutely loves it. He’ll definitely be there, he’s guaranteed a ticket.”

It will in fact be Hayes Junior’s second visit to watch Celtic in the Scottish Cup final after attending last year’s win over Motherwell, but this time he has a great chance of actually seeing his old man taking part.

Hayes was on the way back from a horror leg break this time last year, but fast-forward 12 months and he is flying in the Celtic first-team under interim manager Neil Lennon, being trusted to start on the big occasion ahead of illustrious teammates like Scott Sinclair.

“It’s a sign that the manager has a bit of trust in me and that gives me confidence,” said Hayes. “I don’t think you’ll see a stronger bench in Scotland than ours and that’ll be the case for the foreseeable future due to the quality we have.

“The previous manager built a 30-strong squad so that any one of us can step in and play when required but the good thing is that you can see how strong the togetherness us when we win trophies.

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“After big games everyone celebrates together and no-one is left out. It’s never been about the 11 or the 14 who get on the pitch.”

One of the other factors in Hayes’ renaissance has been a return to his natural habitat in an advanced position on the left wing, having previously filled in at full-back and wing-back as required under Brendan Rodgers.

The arrival of Lennon has not only seen the Irishman return to the role where he made his name, but it has unshackled him a little from the strictures placed upon him by the previous regime.

“I’ve been back there for the last couple of games but I can’t remember the last time I played as a left-winger before that,” he said.

“I’m just happy to be involved at all, especially after coming back from injury. Any chance to play anywhere is good, just as long as I’m out on the pitch.

“One of the things I have to give our manager credit for is that he’s given us a little more freedom [than Brendan].

“You still need to go out and produce, of course; you can’t keep losing the ball- but he encourages you to make things happen.

“Then, if you do get caught in possession, he urges you to get back on the ball again and make it work the next time. But you better make it work sooner rather than later!”

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In the here and now, after such a long struggle back to fitness and form, Hayes is simply enjoying his football again and being able to contribute to the Celtic cause.

His mind has yet to wander towards the crossroads he will soon arrive at as he goes into the final year of his contract at Celtic Park next season, but he is grateful that he is finally in a position where he can prove his worth not only to the supporters, but to those who may decide whether his stay at the club is to be extended beyond next summer.

“I don’t really think about it now,” he said.

“There are transfer windows in football every six months now, so players can move quite frequently. Players can move whenever they want, clubs move on players whenever they want.

“I’ve never been one to think about whether I’ve got six months to go or six years. You can move in the next transfer window, so it’s as simple as that.

“I’m happy in Glasgow, my wife and kids are happy in Glasgow. So I’ll be here as long as they want me here.”

If the prospect of a new deal isn’t a huge motivation for Hayes just yet, the chance to add medals to his collection certainly is, with the 31-year-old desperate to get the league title in the bag as soon as possible.

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That could happen as early as this weekend, providing Hearts can take something from Rangers on Saturday at Tynecastle and Celtic go on to defeat Hibernian at Easter Road, but whenever they get over the line, Hayes will savour the honour having played his part in the triumph.

“We know that the league is close and we could get there in the next couple of weeks but we’re still taking it game by game,” he said.

“Hibs will definitely be up for it on Sunday so we’re just focusing on winning those three points. Come Monday, we’ll have a look at where we are.”