It was supposed to be Hibernian’s new golden generation. Instead, it would help to craft St Johnstone’s.
The rapid rise of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan and the rest of that precocious band of swaggering youngsters was still fresh in supporters’ minds when the Class of 2009 claimed a league and cup double at under-19 level.
That conveyor belt was still whirring, it seemed.
“We believed we could beat anyone,” recalled star striker Kurtis Byrne. “We had won the league the previous week and, although it was a good Rangers team, we had nothing to fear.”
It was a Gers side which included Danny Wilson, Jamie Ness, Gregg Wylde and Kane Hemmings, but a Byrne double secured a 2-1 victory after extra-time.
“I was pinching myself when I saw the goals on Sky Sports News that night,” laughed Byrne. “And, as a lad from Ireland, I have never been as popular back home — scoring the winner in a cup final against Rangers!”
Manager Alistair Stevenson, a fresh-faced playmaker named David Wotherspoon and a ruddy-cheeked, raw full-back named Callum Booth were among those who took turns clutching the trophy.
Little did the trio know that 12 years later they would all attain immortality in a senior Scottish Cup final — cementing an iconic cup double against the Hibees.
The Gaffer: Alistair Stevenson
Stevenson is perhaps the unsung hero of the greatest season in the history of St Johnstone football club, having helped to recruit and develop the likes of skipper Jason Kerr and Northern Ireland International Ali McCann.
Before his stint as head of academy at McDiarmid Park, however, he was the man who shaped and nurtured an all-conquering Hibs youth side, combining expert motivation with a personal touch.
“You always felt like you had Alistair’s backing,” said Ewan Moyes, a rangy, gifted centre-half. “He would give you the freedom to play and express yourself.
“He did a lot for me personally. Alistair actually drove me and D [David Wotherspoon] from Perth to Edinburgh for three years and I still see him occasionally.
“I bumped into him at the big Tesco the other day and told him how pleased I was to see the Saintees flying.
“A bad coach at that level can ruin a youngster’s feeling for football. But a good coach, like Alistair, gives you confidence, makes you feel wanted and goes the extra mile.”
Ollie Russell, a wide forward and the man in charge of the tunes in the dressing room (Glasvegas was the band du jour), is now coaching at Davis Legacy Soccer Club in California and still implements the lessons he learned from Stevenson.
Russell said: “Alistair was quite similar to Donald Park, which is about the biggest compliment I can give — he would really get to know his players as people and take an interest in our lives.”
Byrne cites Stevenson’s influence — as well as individuals who fans may never hear about, such as team coach driver Gavin Gillies — for allowing him to settle away from Dublin and enjoy a truly unforgettable season.
“I had struggled a bit with homesickness during a spell at Norwich after moving over from Ireland,” said the Hampden hero. “When I joined Hibs, Alistair couldn’t have done enough for me, which was really important as a young lad.
“He was supportive and made every single player feel like the best player on the pitch, which is a brilliant skill to have.”
The Standout: David ‘D’ Wotherspoon
The consensus is clear: that outfit was a true team effort. However, if backed into a corner, Wotherspoon is the man who is generally pin-pointed as the kid who was always destined to make the grade (indeed, he played 147 times for Hibs).
“I played with D from boys’ club level back in Bridge of Earn,” recalled Moyes. “He was always a bit special. His turns; tricks; awareness — he was maybe a wee cut above. He had the right attitude as well. We all knew D would make it.
“I remember us growing up and our local heroes in Perth were Nick Dasovic and Miguel Simao. I’m sure he thinks it’s crazy that he has done more than them and has made himself a legend.”
Byrne could, at least, beat him at one sport.
“I got on well with D,” said Byrne. “His parents were really good to me as well, because I was over from Ireland on my own. We actually lived just around the corner from each other in apartments near Easter Road.
“We’d play darts, go to the cinema and stuff like that. We were good mates. I was the better darts player — given the success he’s had, I’m sure he doesn’t mind giving me that one!”
🗣️ "Cup double in one season, it's just unbelievable"
An emotional David Wotherspoon speaking after St Johnstone's Scottish Cup win 🏆⤵️
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) May 23, 2021
Russell, who used get a lift into training each morning from Scott Brown, added: “You can go through the team from right-back to forward, and everyone just complimented one another perfectly. Lee Currie, Ally Park — who came from Rangers — Sean Welsh, even if he was injured quite a bit; it was a real team effort.”
The Flyer: Callum Booth
The youthful (even by under-19 standards) Booth was a dynamic, tireless figure down that left flank and, more than a decade later, his two ferocious tackles which allowed Wotherspoon to cross for Shaun Rooney’s winning goal will live forever.
“I’ve already said to him: ‘We need to get out for a wee night in Perth after this season — we’ll not be paying for a drink all night!’” laughed Moyes, who is still close friends with Booth.
🗣️ "The man who won the League Cup for St Johnstone lands the first blow of the Scottish Cup final".
Here's Shaun Rooney's opener… ⤵️
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) May 22, 2021
“I remember going away one summer and thinking ‘right, I’m going to get properly fit’. I trained and trained and came back flying. Then we reported for pre-season and Boothy, who’d been partying all summer, totally blew me away in the tests!
“I’ve been his teammate at Hibs, Arbroath and Brechin and he was always a real talent, and had incredible natural fitness.”
Russell added: “Boothy was was a year younger than me but when he came into the team, he absolutely cemented that left-back position. I always thought he would have a great career in the game. He had everything for a modern full-back.
“Boothy was level-headed, as well. He had a good mentality. He’d go out there and be the best player on the pitch, then he’d walk off and just shrug and say ‘what you up to tonight?’ Very unassuming.”
The 2021 Final: Immortality assured
Russell, who holds aspirations to coach in Scotland in the future, woke up at 6 a.m. to watch his beloved Hibees in action at Hampden before overseeing a 10 a.m. kick-off for his age group near Sacramento.
Moyes, a Hearts fan hailing from Perth, roared on the Saintees to success, while Byrne’s hopes that the Hibees would claim a second Scottish Cup in the space of five years were dashed.
Scottish Cup 2020/21 champions ⚽️🏆
A cup double for St Johnstone! pic.twitter.com/D0931RQ2Y7
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) May 22, 2021
But while loyalties were split, all were united in their pride while watching Wotherspoon, Booth and, by proxy, Stevenson assure themselves legendary status by bringing a second trophy back to McDiarmid Park on one season.
We will never see the likes again.