The superstar of St Johnstone’s first ever League Cup final team is hoping it will be a case of “third time lucky” for the Perth club at Hampden.
The recent release of a ‘Greatest Saints’ book, with John Connolly at number one of the top 50 players, has given younger supporters an insight into the outstanding talent of the 1969 side’s creative heartbeat.
As a teenager making his name at the top of Scottish football, Connolly wasn’t able to inspire Willie Ormond’s men to victory against one of the great Celtic elevens who were between European Cup finals.
But, even though Saints v Livingston is a 50-50 match-up, there is no denying that Callum Davidson’s squad are faced with a more climbable mountain this weekend.
“It’s incredible to think this is just the third League Cup final in the club’s history so they don’t come around very often,” said Connolly, who would go on to play for Everton, Birmingham City and Newcastle United.
“Hopefully it will be third time lucky and at least they aren’t facing a Rangers or Celtic side at the top of their game like 1969 and 1998.
“It’s going to be tough but the players will take confidence from winning at Livingston recently.
“I’m actually making Saints slight favourites now going into this one. I’ll be wishing Callum and the players all the best.”
The current Saints players need to strike the balance between seizing the moment and smelling the roses.
“To be honest I don’t remember much about our final,” said Connolly, now 70.
“I know there will be no fans at Hampden but hopefully the Saints players still take things in on the day.
“As a player you are too caught up in the game and there wasn’t the same level of TV coverage you get nowadays.
“Jock Stein said some very complimentary things about us before and after the final. This was an October game and he’d warned his players they wouldn’t get it easy because we had drawn 2-2 at Parkhead on the first day of the season in August.
“It would be great if someone dug-up old archive footage of the Celtic match, especially as it was St Johnstone’s first ever major cup final.”
Connolly, who returned to Perth to manage the club in 2004, added: “I was only 19 for the final and half the Celtic team had played in the European Cup win over Inter Milan two years earlier – guys like Billy McNeill, Stevie Chalmers, Jim Craig and Bobby Murdoch. They’d eat the current Celtic side for breakfast.
“Remember, back then Celtic and Rangers were competing at the top level in Europe. It was probably the high point of Scottish football.
“Henry actually had a chance in the first minute but Bertie Auld got their early goal and John Fallon pulled off a few strong saves to protect their lead.
“We were disappointed to lose because when you make a cup final you want to win it. The current team will be the same.
“Reports say I was upended a few times by big Billy McNeill but that was only to be expected. You knew you were going to take a hit but that never worried me.
“Like John Greig at Rangers, Billy was a hard player but fair. He wasn’t the sort to deliberately set out to do damage.
“I was looking back on the infamous Leeds United-Chelsea game the other day. Some of the tackles were scary. But that was the game back then.
“Football is a totally different game nowadays. Half the centre-backs you see don’t make a tackle and they’re knocked off the ball far too easily.”
John Connolly on St Johnstone’s first cup final team
Jimmy is still a big pal to this day. He was your typical daft goalie and he could be wild at times. But he was a terrific shot stopper and he came for everything. The defenders knew he’d clean out three or four players if required.
People said with John every second word was a swear word. I’d say they were wrong. His first would be a swear word! A tough guy to play against. He had a great turn of pace, lightning quick.
A steady defender, an 8 out 10 performer every time he stepped onto the pitch. A local man, he made the club’s Hall of Fame and that says it all.
An unsung hero. A quiet man off the pitch but he formed a great partnership with Benny in the heart of the defence. He would clean people out if he had to but he had a bit of pace about him.
The team captain. A leader and he would drive everyone on. A hard man, he wanted to win every battle. He would be at the heart of everything, leading by example.
A big, big man and the enforcer in the middle of the park. Another guy who was hard as nails and very vocal. Buck’s job was to win the ball in there and move it on.
He wasn’t going to win tackles but Ian was neat and tidy on the ball, a skilful footballer and good passer of the ball with real awareness of what was going on around him.
Kenny was our Jimmy Johnstone, a tricky winger with a real burst of pace about him to terrorise full-backs. We’d get the ball out to him and expect it to come into the box.
Not the quickest, for sure. A big genial lad. But Freddie’s left peg was something special. His delivery into the penalty box was truly exceptional and a nightmare for defenders.
What a finisher wee Henry was, a goal scorer supreme. He got a lot of close-in goals because his reactions were just so quick. His pace took him across defenders and he was always looking to get on the end of things.
There was only one sub in those days. Gordon was another of our technical players, a game changer with good awareness who had a terrific shot on him from 25 yards. That was no mean feat remembering the footballs we were playing with.