The Celtic player with a truly unique standing after downing Rangers at Hampden

As his latest League Cup winners’ medal was draped around his neck after a triumphant dart up the Hampden steps, Callum McGregor might have allowed himself a random thought.

Something along the lines of … ‘wonder what a runners-up medal looks like?’ The Celtic captain has not just eclipsed club icon Billy McNeill’s total of six such badges from the currently Viaplay name-taking tournament. Courtesy of his club’s unprecedented dominance of the tournament with seven successes in only a nine-year period – each one allowing him to bolster a bauble-collection that now stands at 18 major honours – he finds himself in a truly unique position. Not just among any Celtic greats, but among all of the extensively decorated greats that have gone before him in the Scottish game. Bobby Lennox, Scott Brown and McNeill may still have lifted more cups than McGregor. But unlike them, the 29-year-old has never stood on the edge of the Hampden turf disconsolate waiting to trudge up to be handed a medal of the hue that no footballer ever craves.

No Scottish footballers have ever been involved in 11 consecutive finals – as covers McGregor’s senior career, thanks to four Scottish Cup triumphs as well as his seven League Cups – and known only the winning feeling. It is an astonishing run too often overlooked in this silver-strewn period for the club he leads with such distinction – just how silver-strewn detailed in the Celtic support’s Rangers-baiting banner declaring ‘22 trophies in 11 years’ held aloft almost the instant the final whistle sounded.

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The self-effacing nature of McGregor, who now has snared 18 major honours, probably partly accounts for that. He is never the big I-am, never a rabble-rouser and never a get-it-roon-ya winner. Not his predecessor Brown – a man who immersed himself in such pantomime-villain antics – in short. It was typical of McGregor, indeed, to stand and clap his Ibrox rivals, and encourage his team-mates to do so, as, with heads bowed, they made their way up to pick up medals with the engraved-wording that is dreaded.

Callum McGregor celebrates another piece of silverware with Celtic.Callum McGregor celebrates another piece of silverware with Celtic.
Callum McGregor celebrates another piece of silverware with Celtic.

In the lead-up, McGregor had refused to get caught-up in any trash talking on being asked to respond to Rangers striker Fashion Salaka’s “we are much better” than the “other mob” comments this week. In a scrappy, bitty, final, he was much the same on the pitch. He consistently sought to receive the ball in space, and move it on rhythmically, rather than clatter around into opponents as was witnessed on all-too-many occasions across the 96 minutes.

While rarely demonstrating the fluency that has come to be expected of them, Celtic, and their captain, were robust when they required to be. And robust in the manner that tellingly eluded them in losing out to Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final last April. Teetering for a 15-minute spell on the back of Rangers reducing the arrears to 2-1 in the 65th minute, McGregor could be seen cajoling and exhorting his team-mates to get their heads back in the game with frantic hand gestures. Like the best captains, and if even one of the more even-tempered of that fraternity, he knows there are testing times in mammoth tussles when a more demonstrative approach is demanded. McGregor knows that because he knows how to get over the finish line in finals, faultlessly, as no figure in our game’s history has before him.