A moment of magic from the Wizard creates immortality

A moment of magic from the Wizard creates immortality…

With the teams now tied at three wins apiece, the 2017 Scottish Cup final would see one of them edge ahead once more. It was a dark, damp afternoon in Glasgow, definitely not ideal cup final weather, however, the fans played their part in brightening up proceedings, stunning tifos filling three sides of the old stadium as the players emerged from the Hampden tunnel, the clubs splitting the 50,000 tickets on a 50/50 basis. Both teams wore black armbands as a mark of respect for the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Manchester, with a minute’s silence perfectly observed before kick-off.

Brendan Rodgers made just one change from the line-up which completed the unbeaten 38-game League campaign against Hearts six days earlier, Mikael Lustig replacing Cristian Gamboa at right-back. Moussa Dembele was on the bench, the 32-goal Frenchman still not deemed fit enough for a start after his injury in the semi-final, but nevertheless a welcome option should he be required.

Aberdeen started brightly, taking the lead within 10 minutes following a well-worked corner. Former Celtic winger Niall McGinn’s outswinging cross to the far post cut out the Hoops defence, Jonny Hayes meeting it perfectly to beat the despairing efforts of Craig Gordon and Kieran Tierney on the line for 1-0. Then came the ghost of finals past, as just as in those meetings of 1937 and 1954 an equaliser followed immediately, albeit this time for Celtic. Callum MacGregor was fouled as he cut across the Aberdeen midfield, referee Bobby Madden playing a good advantage from a Celtic perspective, as Stuart Armstrong found a yard of space to crash a low 18-yard left-foot shot past Joe Lewis. Game on.

There was a sickening blow for Celts just before the half-hour, Tierney knocked out on the touchline by the flaying elbow of Dons striker Jayden Stockley, the young full-back helped, stunned and bleeding down the Hampden tunnel after extensive treatment for facial wounds, en route to the local hospital. It would not quite be the end of his day. More of that later.

Unbelievably, Stockley escaped any punishment from the referee for the offence, which had happened in front of the linesman and fourth official. On came Tom Rogic, with McGregor dropping back into the left side of the defence. Gordon saved well from Stockley and Graeme Shinnie as Aberdeen continued to threaten, however, the best chance before the break fell to Scott Sinclair, Scotland’s Player of the Year racing into the box to meet Leigh Griffiths’ tantalising cross from the left, only to lift his effort high over the crossbar.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with chances created then missed at both ends. As often happens, there is a game-defining moment, which will be recalled by the losing side long after the fact. This time it is Callum McGregor, in unfamiliar left-back territory on the North Stand side, robbed by Jonny Hayes, leaving Aberdeen in a wonderful two-on-one situation, Lustig the lone Celt as Kenny McLean screams for a pass on the penalty spot.

Either Hayes delays the pass too long or McLean goes a split-second early. You choose. In any case, the ball runs behind McLean to safety, as a match-winning opportunity goes a-begging. They will not get a second bite at this particular cup final cherry.

Celtic have now noticeably stepped up a gear, as the Pittodrie side’s incredible efforts begin to take their toll. Sinclair is denied twice by Lewis when a goal looks certain. For a second, I think that Patrick Roberts has won the Treble, his curling shot speeding towards our corner of the net before the telescopic Lewis gets a finger to divert it onto the post.

Then Dedryk Boyata has a chance to put his name into the history books, as a Griffiths corner lands flush on his forehead, right in front of the Aberdeen goal. But the big Belgian defender chooses power over precision, the ball flies agonisingly over and yet another chapter of Celtic history will need to be rewritten.

The 49,000 drenched supporters and 22 players are resigned to extra-time in this season of seasons, as the clock moves past the 90-minute mark. And then it happens. Just like the movies. Rogic picks up a pass from Armstrong in right midfield and starts to glide. As he does.

Dons substitute Anthony O’Connor tries to stay with him, but the Wizard has cast his spell, the ball remaining glued to his feet as he bears in on goal. All those years of Futsal give him a degree of control and touch which few can match.

He is past O’Connor and now Andrew Considine, as Lewis comes out to meet him. The angle is tight. Ridiculously so. But we can only watch in awe as the tall Aussie effortlessly clips it past the keeper and inside the near post as the net bulges.

There is a second of silence and then absolute mayhem. That moment when you realise that this might indeed be the day when your team, our team, will make football history.

And you will be there.

Your kids by your side.

Your dad in your heart.

We are all here.

Erik Sviatchenko has replaced Roberts, using up a few more precious seconds and disrupting whatever flow remains in the game. But there is still some time to endure before we can really celebrate.

And this is Celtic, so we just know there will be more drama. And there it is. With Madden checking his watch, the ball is launched into our penalty area. Dons defender Ash Taylor has risen highest to knock it down, as Adam Rooney slides in to convert.

There is a moment of blind panic, before the roar around me confirms that the danger has been averted. Gordon has flopped onto the ball. “Stay down, Craig.” He does and I know that’s it. The whistle blows. Relief and release. Strangers are hugging you.

It is a Celtic experience that cannot properly be described. Only felt.

An Invincible Treble.

The first.

The only.

The cup is being passed from player from player, each receiving an individual roar. But there is one, unforgettable moment yet to be witnessed. Up walks a blood-stained Kieran Tierney to huge applause. He grabs the famous old trophy and gestures manically to the support at our end, whilst grabbing the badge on his shirt.

It is an iconic image which will live with me forever. Long after he has left Celtic. In one, impulsive, crazy moment he has summarised just what it feels to be Celtic. The cause. The spirit.

It feels appropriate to give the last word to the man who could only speak through social media, Kieran Tierney himself. He had rushed out of the nearby Victoria Infirmary to get back to the stadium in time for the presentation. Still in pain and groggy from his interim treatment, he had then dashed through the throng of exiting Dons supporters in the car park to take his place on the podium. The last man, just about standing.
Then came that outpouring of emotion. Of feeling. Of downright defiance.

“It was worth a broken jaw.”

Reflecting perfectly the spirit of the class of 2016/17.

Unbeatable. Indestructible. Invincible.

That was how it felt to be Celtic.

Hail, hail!

Matt Corr

Matt Corr with Invincible

Follow Matt on Twitter/X @Boola_vogue

An extract from Invincible by Matt Corr available from Celtic Star Books.

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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