Jim Goodwin endures rocky road to Hampden

Jim Goodwin, left, with Hearts captain Andy Webster. Picture: SNS
Jim Goodwin, left, with Hearts captain Andy Webster. Picture: SNS
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ASKED if he has allowed himself to visualise walking up the Hampden steps on Sunday to take possession of the League Cup, Jim Goodwin replies: “Probably only about twice a day since we beat Celtic in the semi-final”.

The St Mirren captain is only half-joking. For the 31-year-old is acutely aware of how significant it would be, both on a personal level and in a historical context for the Paisley club, if he can lead them to victory over Hearts at the National Stadium.

Only three men have previously skippered St Mirren to a major trophy, all of them in the Scottish Cup – Jock Bradford in 1926, Davie Lapsley in 1959 and most recently Billy Abercromby in 1987.

For Goodwin, the opportunity to add his name to that roll of honour comes in what is the first major club final appearance of his senior career.

Not since he was in the Republic of Ireland side which upset the odds to beat Italy in the final of the 1998 European under-16 Championships, staged in Scotland, has Goodwin participated in such a momentous one-off fixture.

While some of his team-mates from that youthful Irish side have gone on to perform at Champions League level, such as John O’Shea and Liam Miller, the career of Goodwin has, for long periods, been that of a journeyman professional.

But having operated largely under the radar in the lower tiers of English football following his release by Celtic after just one senior appearance back in 2002, Goodwin is now ready to savour his moment in the spotlight.

“When I won the under-16 Euros with Ireland, I didn’t give much thought at the time to how big a moment it was,” he said.

“It’s only now, looking back, I realise what it meant. We beat Spain and Portugal to reach the final where we beat Italy 2-1 at McDiarmid Park.

“I’ve never played in another cup final since, although I was part of the Scunthorpe team which won League One a few years ago.

“But this is the most important moment in my career without a doubt. I’m 31 now and looking to lead a team out at Hampden. It will be a very proud moment.

“From a personal point of view, it could be fantastic to lift the cup. But, collectively, as a team, it’s been 26 years since St Mirren won something. It would be great if we could create some history of our own.

“Leading the team out on Sunday, no doubt my stomach will be churning. But you can use that energy to drive you on. When the whistle goes, the adrenaline kicks in.

“This is why you play football and it’s a fantastic moment for this group of players. No-one gave us much of a chance when we went up to Aberdeen in the quarter-finals but we got the job done. No-one gave us a hope against Celtic in the semi-final, but we got it done again.

“What we lack in fanbase and budget, we make up for in team spirit. There are no big egos in our dressing room, everyone pulls in the same direction.

“I just hope we can finish it off on Sunday and create our own little bit of history for St Mirren.”

There have been times when Goodwin feared he was destined to miss out on the big day. When he was booked during the 3-2 semi-final win over Celtic, he initially believed it would trigger a suspension to rule him out of the final.

After the relief of being told that was not the case, he then had to contend with a calf injury which has seen him sidelined for almost three weeks but from which he has recovered in time to return to Danny Lennon’s side on Sunday.

“I’d been told before the Celtic game that I was one booking away from a ban,” he added, “so I automatically thought I was out when I got the yellow card.

“We were all on a high in the dressing room afterwards but at the back of my mind I was thinking that I was going to miss the final. Then when I got out of the shower, someone from the Scottish Football League came in with the rulebook and told me I was okay.

“After that, I got the calf strain and I did start to wonder what was going on, if I was fated to miss out. I was concerned, because I’d had a calf strain last year which, after being told I’d be out for around 14 days, kept me out for seven weeks.

“I was told the same when I went for a scan this time and it’s now been almost three weeks. But I rejoined training on Tuesday this week and, although I was a little bit cautious at first, as the session went on I felt more confident.

“Everyone would want to declare themselves fit for the game because it is such a huge occasion.

“But I spoke to the manager at the start of the week and said the last thing I wanted was to play the final half-fit and be the cause of the team losing.

“It’s important that everyone who goes on the park for us is 100 per cent.

“We are not that good a team that we can afford to carry passengers. We need everyone at it. I will be 100 per cent fit on the day.”