LAWRIE Reilly yesterday paid tribute to his former Hibs team-mate and trainer, Sammy Kean, who died on Thursday at the age of 85 after a long battle against Alzheimer’s, describing the wing-half as a "one of the great characters of the game".
Kean was instrumental in transforming Hibs into the celebrated team who won three Scottish League championships between 1948 and 1952, and while that golden era will be remembered for the exploits of the Famous Five, the native of Dumbarton made a major contribution to the success the club enjoyed.
Signed from Kirkintilloch Rob Roy as an outside left, he was deployed by manager Willie McCartney at left half, and went on to win international honours with the Scottish League.
In 1941, he teamed up with war-time guest player Matt Busby to form what was widely regarded as the best half-back line in Scotland, and Kean always believed the pair’s best performance together was the game when Hibs fought back to take the Summer Cup from Rangers.
For more than a decade, players like Kean, Peter Aird, Bobby Combe and Willie Finnegan were the driving force behind the illustrious Hibs forward-line of Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Reilly, Eddie Turnbull, and Willie Ormond. Kean played in the 1947 Scottish Cup final, which Hibs lost 2-1 to Aberdeen, and he won a championship medal a year later.
When Willie McCartney died and Hugh Shaw took over as manager at Easter Road, Kean gave up playing and became assistant trainer to Jimmy McColl, and he instilled a great sense of spirit among the squad.
"He was one of the great characters of the game and I personally never saw him in a bad mood," recalled Reilly.
"He was a super character to have around on the training ground and every morning I couldn’t get into training quick enough. He was a real bundle of fun.
"He was a super player too and always played with a smile on his face. He enjoyed every game and was a good attacking wing-half. He had the ability to keep everyone’s spirits up, even when things were going against us."
In the late Fifties, Kean moved to Dundee and trained Bob Shankly’s championship-winning team of 1962. He was also the man credited with luring Smith to Dens Park, where the winger completed the unique feat of winning league titles with three different Scottish clubs.
The pair, who worked together on the shipyards at Leith during the War, remained great friends through the years.
Around 1965, Kean moved to a coaching position at Falkirk and then moved on to Partick Thistle.
When he left football, he spent the remainder of his working life with the Gas Board.
Kean, whose sporting talent extended to golf and bowls, settled in the Comely Bank area of Edinburgh with his wife Mary, who passed away ten years ago.
Some years ago he developed Alzheimer’s and spent his final years in the Pentland Hills Nursing Home. He is survived by two daughters, Maisie and Eleanour, and four grandchildren.
The funeral of Sammy Kean will be held at Warriston on Thursday.