WHEN Leigh Griffiths sent not just one but two arching free-kicks beyond the flailing hand of Joe Hart in June 2017 there was the briefest of suggestions that it was a new beginning – rather than an end.

Griffiths still talks about the goosebumps he gets watching the clips back of those two goals that flashed by Hart and gave Hampden just a glimpse of what could be. It didn’t happen, of course, and since then it is hard to escape the feeling that Griffiths’ career peaked that sunny afternoon against England.

What ought to have been the start of Griffiths entering into the golden period of his playing days – he was just 26 at the time of the goals – has instead been spent chasing fitness, dealing with off-field issues and falling out of favour with managers. Where not so long ago there was a question mark about whether or not Griffiths would be a first-choice Scotland striker or a first-choice Celtic striker, the query this past 14 months or so is whether he can be an option at all.

Griffiths removed his twitter account this week after posting a GIF of him sticking his fingers in his ears. It came on the back of an immediate conclusion drawn by many that the arrival of a new striker at Celtic – and £3.5m for Patryk Klimala would suggest it is not money paid to put him on the bench – does not auger well for the long-term future of the 19-year-old at Celtic.

Neil Lennon repeatedly dismissed any suggestion that he would allow Griffiths to go out on loan in this window but that was before there were other options under his nose.

Griffiths’ reaction to the gossip on twitter suggests he’s sick of hearing others spout about his situation. It’s entirely understandable given the magnitude of the mental health problems he suffered with and the compassionate leave he was granted by the club in December 2018 to deal with those issues. No-one knows for sure exactly what demons he has been chasing – and nor should they. His frustration was palpable in both the social media posting and then his subsequent removal from the fray. He was the golden boy when Brendan Rodgers walked into the club; his 40 goals under Ronny Deila making history and elevating him into the kind of elite company at Celtic that brought about comparisons with weighty figures who have embedded themselves into the folklore of the club.

The last player to net 100 Celtic goals since John Hartson, that Griffiths is blessed with an innate ability is beyond debate. When he dropped to his knees and buried his face deep into his hands on the Celtic Park turf after scoring against Estonian side Nomme Kalju in an early Champions League qualifier it seemed like the road to redemption had opened.

Instead, there have been perennial issues with calf problems and niggling fitness woes curtailing any sustained spell of football. Familiar whispers have never been far away from the social media chronicles.

If Griffiths is frustrated, he will not be the only one. Steve Clarke’s Scotland side are crying out for a striker. Celtic, having given the player a long-term deal just 13 months ago, know they have a player there who can score goals.

Whether the problem comes down to fitness levels or application levels or anything else, the bottom line is: if Griffiths is to rescue his career he needs to make a decision for his own good.

Staying at Celtic offers something of a comfort blanket whether he is down the pecking order or not. For the player to ever recover the yard of pace he needs to take himself away from a defender, he needs to play.

But to feature in games he needs to train and not just to train but to train every day. In Brendan Rodgers’ first season at the club Moussa Dembele blocked the path of Griffiths to regular first-team football. As the Irishman grew uncharacteristically narked at having to answer questions about the increasingly rare sightings of Griffiths and the references to his goal tally the season before, he put a rhetorical question one day to reporters about how many training sessions the player had missed that season.

There is no getting back on reputation or goal stats now.

Hard work, focus and dedication are the only raw materials now that can enable Griffiths to work his way back to the level he has the ability to perform at.

Only he has the means to truly silence the white noise that has been the persistent soundtrack to recent years.