Liam Craig opens up on making up for lost finals with St Johnstone and Hibs

Maybe a stint as a game-show host beckons for Liam Craig when he retires from playing.

St Johnstone's Liam Craig admits that when he at last got his hands on a trophy with with the Betfred Cup success in February, three months later he would have the opportunity to claim another one. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The thought springs because the recent, halcyon days of the St Johnstone veteran’s career have revolved around family and fortunes. It is little surprise Craig this week sought to replicate the build-up to St Johnstone’s League Cup final triumph as his club bid to double their season’s trophy haul in today’s Scottish Cup decider. An “incredible” turn of events for the 34-year-old, he was previously mocked by Fates in leaving today’s opponents Hibs the year before 2016 ended their 114 hoodoo in the competition to return to Perth, having left there 12 months before the McDiarmid Park club claimed the grand old trophy for the first time. “You wait the best part of 17 seasons to play in a cup final and then you get a second one three months later…” said the midfielder, almost verbally pinching himself.

With these same Fates appearing to have taken Craig under his wing, he appears determined to keep them sweet. That meant yesterday he was determined to drive round Perth to see the shop fronts fitted out for the final – it is unknown if he tried the specially created empire biscuit with manager Callum Davidison’s face on it – before returning to an abode specially adorned.

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“I’ve already told Laura that I’m fully expecting a house full of balloons as there was before the last one,” he said. “This final might be different in terms of the emotions, probably, but over my career there have been times when I’ve been a bit superstitious, so I still wanted to take it all in across Perth [with a drive]. Finals don’t come about too often, so you’ve got to go and enjoy it, got to look forward to it and take it all in. I said before the last one, regardless of the result in the League Cup final, I wanted to remember that week and this one is no different in terms of how I wanted to train, how I planned my week and the things I would do in the build up to it.”

Liam Craig says all St Johnstone players may recognise this opportunity to see the club become only the fourth in Scottish football to win both cups in the same seasons. (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group).

He received cards from his children before the decider on February 28. “My youngest’s nursery said if I got to another cup final they’d make paintings for me. At this stage in my career it’s great that I’ve shared a lot of great moments with my kids, but even in the build-up it has been great for them,” he said. “Sometimes Calvin [my boy] goes to his football camps with his St Johnstone top on and people are asking who that team is – but certainly this season he can wear it and everyone knows who St Johnstone are.”

Crucially, only in the frills could everything be the same for St Johnstone this week as three months ago. The Covid-19 issues that have affected nine of the squad over the past fortnight have seriously disrupted the club’s preparations. The origins of these troubles meant Craig was isolating at home as the club overcame St Mirren 2-1 in the semi-final two Sundays ago. “It was tough,” he said. “I barely slept the night before. I was up first thing in the morning and I was on the spin bike doing a bit of work. The positive was I felt like a fan again watching it with my family. As players, you never get to celebrate in the moment with your family. The neighbours must have been wondering what was going on when Kano [Chris Kane] scored —then even more when Glenn [Middleton] scored.

“I was on a Zoom call with a couple of other people from the club and fortunately it ran out just after St Mirren scored because I think the laptop could have gone through the front window in that last five minutes. Then when big Liam Gordon went off [with an injury], it might only have been 20 seconds but felt like a lifetime watching it. But I think the funniest moment in my house was me screaming at the television [towards referee Willie Collum]: ‘blow the whistle, Willie.’ For a 10-year-old, a seven-year-old and a three-year-old that’s the funniest phrase in the world! But it was brilliant. It just shows the togetherness in the squad that within an hour of the game finishing I’d spoken to three or four of the players and later that night I’d FaceTimed a few more of them. That shows the spirit and the togetherness. It was an incredible achievement by the boys and it gave those who missed out something to look forward to when they came back in.”

This band of brothers are patently Craig’s footballing family. And he knows that at Hampden, against his old team, they could achieve something that becomes their ultimate career heirloom. “Those hard times [of missing previous finals] made the League Cup final so special. The fact I have the opportunity s incredible. I probably appreciate it a lot more at 34. As for it being against Hibs, I couldn’t care who it’s against. I’m there for St Johnstone. You just want to go and perform on the day.

Liam Craig says it has no relevance to him that the Scottish Cup final comes against old club Hibs.(Phot by Roddy Scott/SNS Group).

"That’s what the focus is. We’ve got a really good young squad here and we’ve an opportunity to do something that only three other clubs have done in Scotland, and it’s been 31 years since the last club did it outside Celtic or Rangers. I hope these players will go on to have great careers with a lot of success, but will they ever be at a club – outside Celtic or Rangers – that gives them the opportunity to go and win two cups in one season? I’m not so sure. We’ve all got to realise, no matter what age we are, that this is an opportunity to cement yourself, not just in St Johnstone’s history but in Scottish football’s history.”

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