SIX years ago, Neil Lennon described leading Celtic into the Champions League group stage as his greatest achievement in football.

Better than beating Barcelona the previous season, or reaching the 2003 UEFA Cup final, captaining Celtic to a double, playing a part in that treble season of 2001. It was some boast.

Those feats for sure made him a Celtic legend, however, beating Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan 3-0 in Glasgow, they were 2-0 down after the away first-leg if you recall, thanks to a last-minute winner by James Forrest, remains for the man himself one of the best nights of his life.

It’s not at the No.1 spot. Not anymore. That was surpassed in May when he dragged a tired group of players, still stunned by the sudden departure of Brendan Rodgers, to the title, three Trebles in a row and the chance of another crack at Europe’s VIP party, an increasingly difficult ticket to get.

Evening Times:

READ MORE: Lennon set for talks with outspoken Ntcham

And here he goes again.

FK Sarajevo are a new name on the list of Celtic European opponents but the pressure, pitfalls and rewards remain the same when it comes to three qualifying rounds and a play-off. Eight games to, in a way, define a season, make the club more attractive to targets and put the best part of £50m in the bank.

No wonder such victories mean so much to the manager who, it must be said, cut a relaxed figure in the team hotel in Sarajevo.

Lennon said: “I think getting to the group stage is as good as winning a trophy. It’s eight games, it comes in at a quarter of your season, and you are playing champions of different countries, and the rewards are great, they are huge.

“That’s in terms of playing in the group stage, the development of individual performances, what it means to myself and my coaching staff, to the club and supporters. It is so fraught, so difficult to negotiate.

“There is so much to cope with. This is one of the toughest challenges as Celtic manager. We are trying to win games, get their fitness right, bring players in, getting them up to speed, and you’re playing a team from wherever who might be midway through their season – so we have no divine right.

Evening Times:

READ MORE: Far-travelled Brown still gets a thrill from being away on European duty

“However, we know the expectations are always high at Celtic. There is a realism there, but we believe we have the players to do it. They have experienced it before, and I suppose you need a bit of a luck of the draw as you go along.”

Lennon’s mind wandered back to that night in 2013 when during a time when the club were in the process of selling Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson, he was tasked to get the club into the Champions League proper.

Not everything at the club was as he would have wanted it. Indeed, this was to be his last season as manager first time around. However, as European nights in the dear, green place go, this was one to be at.

Lennon admitted: “I was annoyed because we sold so many players of quality. That (the three who left) is the spine of your team right there but we still managed to get there. It opens so many doors when you do get there. I’m not thinking that far ahead. I’m only thinking of this first game and how it’s going to be.

“It’s just what it brings to the club. But we are a long way off that right now. This is the first step in achieving that. There’s a lot of hard work ahead and we may need luck in places. It’s going to sway to and fro. It’s going to be tight. We’ve no divine right to get there but from our standpoint it would be fantastic if we could get there.

Evening Times:

READ MORE: Rangers target Kemar Roofe's 'head turned' | Lennon insists 'Celtic are not a stepping stone'

“These are the most difficult games. When you get to the group stages of the Champions League it is fantastic but the hard work is getting there For me, the Champions League is very important. I’ve had good experiences of it before in my first spell at Celtic.

“For your own development as a coach and a manager, and certainly for the players and the club it means so much. It’s certainly one of our priorities, no question. We’ve got eight games to negotiate - which is almost a quarter of a season. It’s a tough road to travel but we know the rewards that lie at the end of it.”

How Lennon must dream of qualification being as it was in his playing days or how it should be before UEFA put money above football and fairness.

That Celtic have eight games to play just to get to the group stage has become an annual complaint but it’s one with making in the hope things get changed.

Lennon said: “When I played, we might have been straight in and or maybe there was one qualifier to negotiate. Now we have negotiate four. When I first managed, it was three, then Brendan had four. I think it’s really unfair.

“But thems the rules as they say and we have to get on with it. We are the champions of Scotland. I think we deserve better but we’ll take it as it comes.

“The players have prepared the best as they can, we had a good week in Austria, and if we are a goal down within a minute then we’ve enough experience to see the tie through tomorrow and then take it back to Celtic Park."