NO MATTER the outcome of Sunday’s Scottish Communities League Cup Final, St Mirren midfielder Paul McGowan is looking forward to adding to his memories of the national stadium.
At the moment they consist of just two – the glorious afternoon back in January when St Mirren beat Celtic 3-2 to make the final with McGowan scoring from the penalty spot, and an earlier, less happy occasion when the 25-year-old midfielder was still a Celtic player.
He was at Hampden to watch Ross County beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April, 2010, and shared in the disappointment of the players and fans alike. “I was only in the stand but it was a bad day to be involved in,” said McGowan.
“I remember it well. More than anything I remember getting off the team bus afterwards and seeing the supporters waiting for the players.
“It was one of Neil Lennon’s first games in charge and, when we got off the bus, fans were shouting abuse as they tried to get to their cars. You could see what it meant to them but that was Ross County’s day.
“That was my abiding memory of the day. I put my head down and headed for my car. It wasn’t nice to see.
“It wasn’t pleasant but, hopefully, there won’t be a repeat of that on Sunday. That’s my only memory of Hampden, other than the semi-final. It was devastating.”
McGowan is determined to put that memory behind him: “It would be nice to create a few positive memories as it will be a great occasion,” he said.
“Hearts will be saying the same thing – that it’s a great chance for them to win a cup, as it is for us. We can only go out and play the way we know we can. We’ve been so inconsistent that it’s been frustrating.”
Being in the final will be an unexpected event in any case, and all the more memorable for it. McGowan freely admitted that making finals was not something he had thought about when signing a two-year contract that expires in the summer, a situation he quickly dismissed, saying: “I haven’t thought about my contract situation yet. We’ll talk after the Cup Final and see where both parties are.”
McGowan added: “Since I’ve been here we’ve come quite close in the cups, with quarters and semis. But I never imagined this, especially when we got Celtic and everyone wrote us off but it just shows you that anything can happen. Every one of us had a great game that day while Celtic were off it.
“Obviously, Celtic are a better side than us. They’re the best team in Scotland by a mile. No-one gave us a hope but I think, in a cup game, anyone can beat anyone. We were confident and things fell into place. When they missed the penalty we had a feeling it would be our day and, thankfully, it was. Now we need to go on and win it, or that will just become another distant memory.
“Everyone says Hearts aren’t what they were but you just have to look at their team and see their experienced players. Gary Locke has lifted them in the last couple of games since he’s come in and they will be a handful for us. We just need to work on how we’re going to stop them so we can play our football.”
McGowan and the rest of the St Mirren squad have enjoyed a break in St Andrews, although the player would have preferred the normal routine to golf: “I don’t play golf as I’m rubbish – I was happier watching Cheltenham on the telly.”
A season that could have been remembered for the wrong reason, as he spent three months out with injury, suddenly appears one that McGowan could recall with fondness forever, especially if the cup heads to Paisley on Sunday evening.