WHEN Raith Rovers defeated Celtic to win the League Cup in 1994, the result was such a shock that there wasn’t even an open-top bus booked.
“Obviously they didn’t expect us to win,” says Danny Lennon, the former Raith midfielder who will take charge of St Mirren for today’s final against Hearts. “With Raith we went for a meal straight afterwards. But the celebrations were fantastic for two weeks. It was incredible for the size of that club.”
Part of the squad that helped the Kirkcaldy side to that ’94 final, injury prevented Lennon from taking part in the match – but not the celebrations. It also didn’t stop him playing in Europe the following season. But, while St Mirren have an open-topped bus provisionally booked for this weekend, they will not be rewarded with a shot at European football next term. Something which Lennon believes should be rectified but concedes probably won’t be until Scottish clubs improve their standing on that platform and gain more slots.
“I think it is a shame. When we won it with Raith Rovers that was an avenue that got you in there. It gave me my career highlight as a player,” he says, recalling his goal which gave the Scottish underdogs a temporary lead against Bayern Munich. “But this time it’s not about looking too far ahead, it’s all about what happens out on the pitch in the game on Sunday.
“With the poor success of Scottish clubs in Europe, until this season, it has taken away one or two European spots. Until we start to do well again in Europe, I don’t think we’ll get that with the third trophy. You still get in with the Scottish Cup but the Scottish Cup is one of the oldest competitions in the world. It’s up to the people who run the game. We’re just concentrating on winning this trophy and, if there was any wee bonus on the back of that, we would happily take it. But, even if there was a European place at the end of it, it’s something that wouldn’t come into our mind until the job was done.”
There are a number of neutrals who believe the Paisley side can do just that.
Having beaten Celtic in the previous round they now come up against a side they have beaten twice this season and lost to just once. It is also a side suffering from the same inconsistencies on the park and feeling the same effects in the league.
“If you asked at the start of the competition about the chances of a St Mirren v Hearts final, I don’t think too many would have put those two together. It has become the people’s cup final and it’s great to be part of that. But after this cup competition we have nine very important league games. We want to finish top of the bottom six.”
Saints’ league results have stalled slightly since the semi-final victory but, while Lennon would have liked more wins, he is far from negative about recent form.
“A lot of people have said we’ve not been at our best since our semi-final success but we’ve managed to score more goals than we’ve conceded and keep four clean sheets. Even the games we have lost, we’ve just lost by the one goal. We know the things we’re doing well and what we’re doing badly so, hopefully, we can get the right formula on the day.”
The SPL remains the club’s bread and butter but Lennon concedes that top six finishes don’t earn players space in the photos which decorate the stadium walls. Cup wins do. “There’s a wonderful opportunity for the players to become legends and become part of the club’s history. Like the St Mirren class of ’87, they have the chance to cherish something that will live long in their memory.
“I remember my first cup game with St Mirren was in this competition when we went to Ross County. The game finished 2-2, went to a penalty shoot-out and we lost it. Since then we’ve made every quarter-final, in both competitions, and thankfully have made it to a national final. So it was always something we were champing at the bit to do. To get to a cup final in our third season is very good progress.”