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Football: Forget kids ... this is the age of the veteran.

Byline: Cosgrove

THERE is a cruel joke doing the rounds in the north east of Scotland.

What's the difference between Neil Lennon and a Peterhead fishing fleet? Neil Lennon is more likely to see a bulging net.

My apologies to those who earn their living in an era of depleted cod stocks but the rare glimpse of Lennon celebrating a goal in the SPL was guaranteed to provoke a reaction.

Although Magic Zurawski stole most of the headlines in the aftermath of Celtic's eight-goal rampage, what was really remarkable was the creaking bones of Celtic's first-team squad rumbling into life.

Suddenly Celtic fans, who had grumbled about the collective age of Hartson, Thompson, Lennon, Keane and Dublin, had to admit maturity easily won the day.

By coincidence, as Celtic ripped the heart out of the Pars defence, Stanford University were announcing that by 2010 hum an beings will live to over 100 and the normal retirement age will be 85.

Have America's boffins never heard of Andy Millen?

The question of age is an increasingly baffling concept in Scottish football.

Like many fans raised on the emotional promise that a new generation of Scottish-born stars is just around the corner, I have frequently put my faith in the swashbuckling inconsistency at Hibs and the illusory promise of Scotland's Under-21 squad.

Shaun Maloney may well have scored Celtic's most spectacular goal at East End Park and the predatory Pole Zurawski may have scored the most, but the real difference came when Celtic's midfield whizzed into life and Keane and Lennon threw their zimmer frames to the stands.

Stanford Uni's report is great news for Gordon Strachan. Rather than try to transform his ageing squad he can wait until new therapies and anti-ageing drugs kick in and let Lennon and Keane play into their dotage.

Gretna will have similar thoughts. They are already eye-balling another championship and have their optimistic eye on getting to the Scottish Cup Final. Don't mention youth in their dressing room -more than half the team is over 30 and several key players can remember black and white TV.

But the theme is probably more pronounced in the First Division where the strongest contenders for the Player of the Year Awards will come from the wily old foxes of deep midfield.

Andy Millen has driven St Mirren to the brink of the SPL. The irrepressible 40-year-old has seen his role change from half-back to midfield to holding role without blinking an eye.

He would relish one last shot at the SPL. Those who say he is too old for the top division have not watched him recently.

If Millen has a serious contender for the First's Player of the Year it isn't young guns like Simon Lynch, Stewart Kean or Jason Scotland, who currently lead the scoring charts, it is St Johnstone rival Darren Sheridan, another ageing schemer who, unlike Millen, at least has the decency to be bald.

This is truly a battle of the unfashionable. Millen is a time-served welder who only came into football at the relatively late age of 26. The 38-year-old Sheridan has plied his trade in the English divisions with gritty northern clubs like Oldham, Barnsley and Wigan, and if rumour is right is a handy contender at fairground boxing

As a Scot with a long-standing reputation in the game, Millen may have the edge but Sheridan is one of those below-the-radar stars fellow pros love to have on their side.

Although they will never command the same level of attention as Keane and Lennon, Millen and Sheridan are like the proverbial vintage wine - they seem to have improved with age.

What is significant is that both are fitness fanatics and among the toughest contenders at their clubs.

This is where theories of ageing really kick in. Scotland has broken the spell of past indiscretions and is actually producing players who have looked after their bodies.

The future is probably not about youth but about the extremes of age. We are seeing teenagers breaking into the SPL as young as 16 and old guard still orchestrating games sometimes into their 40s.

Keep taking the pills.

CAPTION(S):

OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Millen could be player of the year at 40
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 23, 2006
Words:707
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