He said all the right things.
“It’s down to the manager.”
“I’m just concentrating on playing football and it was good to be back on the pitch today.”
“Am I open to staying? Yes, this is the place I’ve been my happiest and played my best football. I will see what happens.”
“I’m sure the manager will have a word with me at some point.”
It was as straight a bat as Chris Tavare in his pomp could have hoped to wield while getting himself set for a long summer’s morning and afternoon at the crease on the opening day of a Lord’s test match.
Michael O’Halloran hasn’t reached the age of 30 in professional sport without being able to carry-off non-committal immaculately when asked whether he expects to be a St Johnstone player next season.
But for all that the double cup-winner has kept the door open for a contract extension, the smart money would be on this third spell at McDiarmid Park coming to an end in a few weeks’ time and there not being a fourth.
To come to that conclusion, it’s not a case of reading between the lines. It’s a case of reflecting on the Saints season as a nearly-completed whole, and O’Halloran’s sporadic part in it.
A day one red card at Tannadice didn’t help forge a strong bond of trust between player and manager.
However by the end of November, after he was at his unplayable best in the last-16 Betfred Cup tie at Fir Park, you could have made a case for O’Halloran emerging as Callum Davidson’s most potent attacking weapon (there wasn’t so much as one league goal between Chris Kane, Callum Hendry and Guy Melamed at that point).
Scott Brown certainly thought so.
Taking O’Halloran out of the game in the 1-1 draw at Celtic Park had a premeditated ‘I’ll sort their danger man for you gaffer’ feel about it.
An entirely avoidable quick-fire two yellows sending off against Rangers on his return from that Brown-inflicted hip injury was the start of an altogether more frustrating phase of the season for O’Halloran, and one which kept him on the fringes in the season-defining two months of glory.
There were eight wins between mid-January and mid-March that won a cup and secured a top six league placing. O’Halloran only started in one of those matches – as a replacement wing-back in the hanging on by their fingernails victory against Hibs at McDiarmid.
It is to the player’s great credit and is a testament to the buy-in the manager has achieved from regulars and bit-part performers alike that there isn’t, and has never been, the merest hint of a lack of commitment from a forward who is more used to being the main man in Perth than somebody who has had to wait until a cup clash with League One part-timers to get a first forward-line start in nearly three months.
— Scottish Cup (@ScottishCup) April 18, 2021
O’Halloran played superbly against Clyde, particularly in a first half that was a perfect 45-minute snapshot of everything that is best about Saints this season.
They smothered the weary part-timers with the sort of high-press energy they would bring to a Premiership contest, with O’Halloran among those snapping into tackles.
And there was some superb pass and move football.
The goal he set-up for Guy Melamed and the goal he finished off when put through by Stevie May were the examples that impacted on the scoreline but there were plenty of other moments of slick play.
Then in the second half, when there was probably a sub-conscious realisation that they had done more than enough to ensure progression to the quarter-finals, you could still see O’Halloran sprinting for 50 yards into the right-back space late in the match to thwart a Clyde counter-attack his defenders would probably have had under control.
Whether it was a standard of play high enough to keep him in the team for the midweek league game against Rangers and/or the last-eight cup tie at Ibrox a few days later, or high enough to keep him at Saints beyond the summer, remains to be seen.
But it was a reminder that O’Halloran is still a dynamic attacking presence at the top level of the Scottish game.
And he has put his hand up to be considered for back-to-back clashes with the new champions (he is the only pace option up front with Glenn Middleton unable to play against his parent club) that are an opportunity for Saints to elevate this magnificent season yet further.
“It gives the manager a headache but I’m sure he won’t mind because he’s got different personnel to use in different games and no matter who he chooses, all the boys will go out and do their best for the team,” said the former Rangers player.
“There are so many boys champing at the bit to play but competition is a good thing.
“We can play the two with the one in behind which gives us another option. It’s a real strength.
“It’s been a while since I played and I’ve just been keeping myself ticking over so I was happy to be out there and contribute to a good team performance. I was happy to score and get an assist too. We got two early goals and that settled it. We would have liked to have scored a few more but it’s all about getting into the next round.
“I like learning different positions – wing-back is another position I like. We change it that much, I’m happy when the manager selects me to get on the pitch. I was nice to get 90 minutes in my legs.
“I just want to play my part in the team in the last part of the season.”
Even in a season you would have to put down as personally underwhelming for O’Halloran given past accomplishments with Saints and the fact Davidson’s favoured arrow formation up front should have been ideally suited to his skillset, there have been moments and matches of brilliance.
Fir Park, as mentioned above, was undoubtedly one. A stoppage time winner at Kilmarnock back in August was another.
Is he the same player who was the man-of-the-match at Ibrox in 2015 when Saints inflicted a first defeat on Mark Warburton’s then Championship high-flyers? You couldn’t say ‘yes’.
But is he capable of rolling back the years and doing it again this weekend? You could say ‘yes’ to that one.
“I would have to say that was a big moment in my career,” said O’Halloran. “I remember at the time Rangers were doing well. They hadn’t lost that season.
“Macca (Steven MacLean) assisted my goal that night. It was a memorable match and hopefully we can replicate that next weekend.
“It’s a massive week for us but that’s what you want at this time of the season. You want big games.
“We have done that by making the top six so we get to face the big sides in games that matter.
“And if you are going to win the cup you have to go to difficult places and it doesn’t get much harder than Ibrox but first and foremost we have Rangers in the league and we will concentrate on that.”
In what remains of their Scottish Cup run and the Premiership campaign, Saints will harness a shackles off mentality they have earned through their Betfred triumph and top six league position.
Just don’t mistake it for a drop-off in focus and ambition.
“We can only take the positives from winning the League Cup,” said O’Halloran. “Cup games are one-off matches but it did not matter which team won on Sunday because we were always going to have a tricky game away from home.
“It has been an incredible season but the manager has told us he doesn’t want it to peter out.
“We did so well getting top six and we want to go as far as we can in this cup.
“We are guaranteed sixth place but Livingston are four points ahead of us so that’s definitely catchable.
“We want to finish as high up the table as possible and there’s a chance of European football as well.
“I know a lot of the boys have played in Europe before here and it’s brilliant. Maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself by aiming for that but you have to aim big.”