Like Callum Davidson’s double cup winners, the last St Johnstone team to face Celtic at Hampden Park had a “swagger” that ensured they were never overawed by any opponent, according to Derek McInnes.
But, as opposed to 2007 when Saints were in the First Division and trophy-less, that familiar self-assurance the former McDiarmid Park boss sees in the current Perth side is reinforced by medals and memories.
And it’s an inner belief which gives them hope of producing another famous knock-out tournament performance at the national stadium this weekend.
“That game would have been my last Hampden semi-final as a player,” said McInnes, a starter in midfield for Owen Coyle when Saints were beaten 2-1.
“We lost two semis that year – to Hibs and Celtic – and both of our opponents went on to win the cup.
“Obviously, as a First Division team it was going to be a big ask against Celtic but we always felt we were a good cup side and had a big performance in us.
“We’d been really unlucky in the League Cup against Hibs and were going well in the league.
“There was a swagger and confidence about us.
“That team had a lot of big personalities and I can’t remember there ever being a point when we thought we couldn’t win.
“It was a roasting hot day. I don’t think we started well and they took the lead.
“Then after big (Martin) Hardie scored our equaliser we really settled down and were doing wel before (Jan) Vennegoor of Hesselink scored their winner.
“It was a really strong, experienced, battle-hardened Celtic and in semi-finals you have to find a way to win and be confident in your surroundings.”
Talking of which.
“I think that’s what this St Johnstone team has,” McInnes pointed out.
“They turn up for every one of these games at Hampden.
“Everything about a big occasion is natural to them now – the media, the build-up and everything that goes with it.
“They’ve been very good at making sure they just concentrate on the game.
“I’m sure Callum will make it another unfussy week and build-up to Saturday as normal.
“They’ve got the benefit and confidence last season’s achievements brings.
“Our team had an inner swagger but the difference is that Callum’s team has backed that up as well with what they’ve earned.”
Coyle and McInnes were the founding fathers of this golden era for St Johnstone that peaked with the 2021 double.
It was just over a decade ago that the latter left for Bristol having re-established Saints as club that was still renowned as a cup team to be feared but, more importantly, one that was secure in the top flight of Scottish football.
“The way in which good players have hung about for a long time tells you this is a club people want to be at,” said McInnes.
“Some have spent the majority of their careers there.
“St Johnstone has been a great story and it’s been a well-established club for a while.
“You don’t often see things continue as they have done there, manager after manager. They’ve appointed well, which isn’t easy.
“It hasn’t been down to one manager or one set of players.
“It’s been a brilliant story.”
No like for like
Getting to this semi-final after losing their skipper and best player on deadline day is the latest example of St Johnstone’s resilience – and Davidson’s managerial ability.
“You can’t replace like for like,” said McInnes.
“When a team is successful there are normally two or three key players in it. McCann and Kerr certainly were for St Johnstone.
“It was their captain and their driving force in the middle of the park.
“It’s near on impossible to replicate that.
“It’s about showing the resilience of dealing with losing key players.
“That’s unfortunately the job of a manager.
“What Callum does have is the experience of Craig Bryson, Liam Craig, Murray Davidson and Ali Crawford. That’s huge.
“And Cammy MacPherson is always a player I’ve liked. I thought it was a smart bit of work by Callum bringing him in.
“He’s not Ali McCann but he plays in the same sort of gear as Ali McCann.”