It is generally agreed that having Rangers in this season’s Premiership will make the set-up bigger and stronger. Dave Mackay shies away from the accepted wisdom that you can unthinkingly add better to that list.
The St Johnstone captain won’t be involved today as the Perth club open their league campaign by hosting Aberdeen. A hip operation in March and subsequent setbacks means the 35-year-old is facing a lengthy exile from first-team action. Mackay maintains that the four-year absence from the top fight for Rangers that followed their 2012 liquidation, meanwhile, did not leave the division hirpling. Instead, it might actually have put a spring in its step.
“I don’t know about that,” the defender said, when asked if the league would be better with Rangers. “I’ve not noticed any difference over the last few years – it’s possibly even been better. A few teams have had the chance to finish second. It was also good for Scottish football and, although chairmen might disagree financially, I don’t think it’s been as bad as some people have made out.”
In the past five seasons, only Celtic and Aberdeen have harvested more points at the highest level of the Scottish game than St Johnstone. Ordinarily, summer comes around and it brings with it nay-saying about the McDiarmid Park club’s ability to sustain their status as one of Scotland’s leading lights. Yet, astute recruitment drive by Tommy Wright that has led to him adding former Dundee United captain Paul Paton, winger Michael Coulson from York City, Falkirk favourite Blair Alston and Keith Watson, most recently with St Mirren, has no-one anticipating that the irrepressible Perth side won’t secure their sixth straight top-six finish.
“[Our points total over five years] speaks highly of how we have done. A third place, two fourths and maybe a five and six – it’s unbelievable consistency to keep doing that,” Mackay said. “It’s always going to get harder because the crowds we get don’t help the club keep pushing forward and investing. I think everybody is always expecting us to hit the slippery slope but I don’t see that happening this year because we look stronger than we have in the past couple of years. We quite enjoy people writing us off. The manager might have moaned about that in the past but the players don’t bother with that. If we don’t finish in the top six then we will feel that we have underachieved, so we will go out with the aim of doing it again.”
Mackay’s consistent excellence has been central to St Johnstone’s stability. He doesn’t know when next he can seek to provide that and, he hopes, add to the historic 2014 Scottish Cup success that proved the zenith of, not just his seven years on Perth, but the club’s 132 years in the city. He is not allowing himself sleepless nights about the prospect of football’s grim reaper paying him a visit.
“It’s only be finishing playing, not dying!“ he said. “It’s going to happen at some point. I’m lucky to still be playing in the Premiership at 35 so if that’s the case I will just have to deal with it. It’s not something I’m scared of. I know it’s coming in the near future. Whether it’s this year, next or hopefully another couple I have to deal with it.
“I was doing my licence in the summer, but with coaching you need a chance. There’s a lot of boys trying to get in. I’ve been trying to get fit, but if the worst-case scenario happens and I can’t play then it would be good to get involved with some of the younger boys towards the end of the season. That’s something I’m interested in. The club have been honest enough to say that if I don’t get back to playing there could be something there for me. I think I’ve been quite good for the club, but they have certainly been good for me.”