Ray Montgomerie, the last Kilmarnock captain to lift the Scottish Cup when they beat Falkirk 1-0 in 1997, was present at Rugby Park last night to witness the draw for the fourth round which gave his club (he currently works in their commercial department) a home tie against Hamilton Academical.
The importance of that success – their first since 1929 and the last to date – cannot be underestimated but Montgomerie claims that the competition has assumed greater importance than ever due to the hegemony of Celtic.
Currently 200/1 on to win the Premiership title for the sixth successive season, Brendan Rodgers’ side have become so dominant that Montgomerie sees no prospect of anyone being capable of competing with them for years to come, if at all.
As a result, he insists that the Scottish Cup and the less prestigious League Cup, have become the only potential sources of silverware for every other senior side.
“We need a cup run,” said Montgomerie, speaking with his Kilmarnock hat on. “Let’s face it, Celtic are so far ahead of everyone else that the cups are the only chance everyone else has of winning something now.
“It’s not just Kilmarnock; Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts are all in the same boat. They know they’re not going to win the league.
“We’ve got to be realistic. Every team in Scotland wants a cup run because that’s all we really have to play for.
“There’s no point in kidding ourselves on – Rangers and Aberdeen aren’t going to win the league and the only good thing about that is that it’s made the Scottish Cup more important than when we last won it.
“Back then there were still two or even three clubs who could become champions but now there is more emphasis being put on the cups because they’re the only chance of silverware for everyone else.
“The Scottish Cup was always the more prestigious competition anyway but that’s grown in importance now. We have a home draw, against Hamilton, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Kilmarnock are currently second from bottom of the top tier, just one point above basement club Partick Thistle, but Montgomerie sees parallels between their situation and the one they found themselves in two decades ago.
“When we set out in the competition 20 years ago nobody gave us a chance – just like no-one will fancy us now,” he said.
“But a cup run can really galvanise a club and that’s what happened to us back then. We were struggling in the league and fighting relegation. Bobby Williamson had just come in as manager to replace Alex Totten, who’d been dismissed halfway through the season.
“However, once we started winning cup ties we took that momentum into the league campaign. The cup form transferred into the SPL games and our confidence grew. It showed how a run in a knock-out competition can transform a team. A similar one now, with the Premiership table as tight as it is, could make sure that we stay up.
“We really kicked on in 1997 and we ended up qualifying for Europe in four of the next five seasons. The cup played a massive part in that because we’d be looking forward to the draw for every round and, for the last two months of that season, we were the form team. Hopefully, the current team can do the same.”
Unsurprisingly, for someone who was always a team player, Montgomerie is anxious for current captain Steven Smith to follow in his footsteps and lift the trophy at Hampden. “I’d like someone to take that tag off me as the last Kilmarnock captain to win it; you don’t want to have it for too long,” he said.
“I remember Ronnie Hamilton when he was the chairman saying the same thing.
“He’d won the league here in 1965 and told me he wished someone else would do it as well.
“You want more success for the club and it would be great for the town if we could do that. It’s only five seasons since Kilmarnock won the League Cup and that shows what can happen.
“I was there that day as a supporter and it was great to see it from the sidelines.”