Denis Connaghan: A unique Hampden hat-trick for the nicest of men

Denis Connaghan: A unique Hampden hat-trick for the nicest of men…

Part 1: Two old school friends are reunited at Celtic

More sad news coming through this week as the passing of former Celtic goalkeeper Denis Connaghan was announced.

I remember Denis very well from his playing days at Celtic Park and was also fortunate enough to spend some time chatting with him a few years ago, whilst researching for my Harry Hood biography.

He was a lovely man and so very helpful. Denis had been a schoolboy teammate and close friend of Harry’s in the early 1960s at Holyrood Secondary, before meeting back up with him again when Jock Stein signed the big goalkeeper for Celtic from St Mirren in October 1971. Jock, of course, had brought Harry to the club from Clyde some 18 months earlier.

The month of October 1971 would be pivotal in Denis’ career, with the League Cup in the forefront. Second Division St Mirren were not given much chance against a Celtic side smarting from a shock home defeat to St Johnstone at the weekend and seeking to reach an eighth successive League Cup final, when the teams met at Hampden for the semi-final on Wednesday, 6 October 1971.

That task looked even more difficult when defender Hugh McLaughlin received a second booking just after the half-hour, but a brilliant display by Denis kept the Buddies in the match until Davie Hay – ironically a Paisley man – opened the scoring on the hour mark. Within three minutes, Harry Hood and Bobby Lennox had secured Celtic’s place in the final but no doubt Jock Stein had taken notice of Denis’ goalkeeping performance.

Denis would not be in first-team action on Saturday, 23 October 1971 – St Mirren were the odd team out in the 19-club Second Division – but his career would be positively impacted by events at Hampden, as rank outsiders Partick Thistle shocked the football world by scoring four first-half goals against Celtic to win the Scottish League Cup for the first time.

Jock Stein’s transition of the squad which had reached the European Cup final the previous season was already well underway. John Hughes and Willie Wallace were spectators at Hampden, having only recently been transferred to Crystal Palace, whilst Tommy Gemmell would be at Nottingham Forest within a few weeks. With Evan Williams conceding four goals at Hampden, Stein also took the opportunity to freshen up his goalkeeping options, by swooping for Denis just 24 hours after that Hampden defeat.

Jim Blair reported on the transfer in The Evening Times on Monday, 25 October 1971.

Celtic sign Connaghan – St Mirren keeper goes to Parkhead

Celtic boss Jock Stein today signed St Mirren’s Denis Connaghan to bring the tally of goalkeepers at Parkhead to FIVE!

Connaghan, a one-time provisional Celtic signing who was never called up, now joins Evan Williams, Englishman Gordon Marshall, John Fallon, and Irishman Tom Lally, and looks set to make his debut at East End Park on Wednesday night against Dunfermline.

Speaking about the transfer, St Mirren manager Wilson Humphries said – “I had to let Denis go, for I promised him a move if an offer came along.”

Connaghan is very much a football character. The lanky keeper, who in the past has reserved some of his finest performances for the games against Celtic, has always admitted to being Celtic-daft. This move will no doubt delight him, for he thought he had missed his chance of playing at Parkhead.

Connaghan was one of the many Scottish players who tried to popularise football in America. In fact, he left the local team in Baltimore in 1968 to return to Scottish football…and St Mirren.

Jock Stein, who hasn’t been happy with his goalkeeping set-up for some time, obviously feels Connaghan can do a good job for Celtic.


End of article.

Denis Connaghan

Denis did indeed make his Celtic first-team debut at East End Park in midweek, lining up with his old school friend Harry Hood who scored the winner as the Hoops came from behind to win 2-1. He would then make his home debut in front of a massive 64,000 crowd as Celts faced closest title rivals Aberdeen in a vital League match on Saturday, 6 November 1971. It is a day I remember well, the biggest attendance for a game I had witnessed at Celtic Park at that point. I remember the huge roar as Harry put the Hoops in front at the far end on the hour, then sadly the anguish as Billy McNeill headed past Denis into those distinctive green nets at our end to square the match at 1-1.

But what about that early connection with Harry Hood, Holyrood and Celtic? Below is an extract from Harry Hood: Twice As Good which puts that in context.

Back with Harry at Holyrood, he would almost certainly have been involved in the Under 18 trials for the Glasgow Schools team, which took place at Nether Pollok on Saturday, 4 November 1961. Jim McCalliog represented Holyrood in the Under 15 trials at the same venue, whilst 11-year-old Danny McGrain of Camus Place played for Glasgow West’s under 12s against West Lothian in Blackburn.

Harry would progress to the final trials for Glasgow at the senior age level, played at Lesser Hampden on Monday, 13 November before being selected with Holyrood teammate Tommy Doherty and former Queen’s Park colleague Alex Ingram in the following line-up to face the Rest of Scotland at Cathkin at the end of that month.

Melville (St Augustine’s); Milliken (Hyndland) & Doherty (Holyrood); Wyper (Whitehill), McCarron (Lourdes) & McLellan (Eastwood); Ingram (Eastwood), Samson (Whitehill), McNulty (Lourdes), Hood (Holyrood) & Kilpatrick (John Neilston Institution).

Reserves: Wishart (Shawlands, Rankin (St Mungo’s), Mackay (Shawlands), Neilson (Rutherglen) & Miller (Queen’s Park).

That major step towards Harry’s dream of schoolboy international honours was cruelly crushed when the selectors realised that he had signed amateur forms and played for St Roch’s earlier that season. On Thursday, 23 Nov 1961, it was announced that an “enforced change” would see Hood of Holyrood replaced by Neilson of Rutherglen Academy for the clash with Rest of Scotland at Cathkin the following Monday. It would be small consolation, if any, to Harry that Glasgow duly lost 4-0 that evening.

Harry would pick himself up, dust himself down and focus on doing well for Holyrood and Brunswick for the rest of the campaign, albeit that contract with St Roch’s would have another sting in its tail later that season. Holyrood commenced their League programme in devastating style, an unbeaten run taking them to the top of Division 1D of the Glasgow Schools League, where they would enjoy a season-long tussle with Lourdes for the title. The goalkeeper was a youngster from Pollokshields by the name of Denis Connaghan, who, of course, would feature again in the Harry Hood story. Sixty years down the line, former Celtic keeper Denis still has fond memories of those times at Holyrood.

“We had a great side back then. The manager was a chap called John Murphy, who was actually the stadium matchday announcer at Celtic Park. Unusually, he had looked after us each year, whereas normally you got a new coach as you moved through the age levels. My family had moved from Coburg Street in the Gorbals to Pollokshields in 1957, so I had been at Holyrood from the outset, but I remember Harry and John McCafferty only moved across from St Aloysius in fifth year. A lot of boys did that at the time, as St Aloysius was a rugby-playing school. You could tell right away that Harry was a player. He stood out like a sore thumb. We got on like a house on fire from the start and I became and remained close friends with Harry and Kathie. We both loved our football. He was very modest. Never boasted. Harry did his talking on the park.”

“I remember some of the other boys well. Tommy Doherty at full-back was from Priesthill. He later married Kathie’s best pal, Angela Canning. Defender Andy McManus and winger Harry Murphy both went on trial with Bolton Wanderers, and big Conrad La Pointe was a fabulous athlete. He was six foot plus and a 400m runner. He spoke with a broad Glaswegian accent, and I’m not certain but I think his family origins may have been French Canadian.”

“At outside-right was John Gartland, who revelled in the nickname “Judy” for obvious reasons. He was greased lightning and could run 100 yards in 10 seconds. His parents owned Gartland’s Rolls, a bakery in Rutherglen. It was a family business which was later taken over by one of the bigger companies, Morton’s I believe. John went on a supporters’ charter to Milan for the European Cup final in 1970. One of the stewardesses on the flight was Rae Stein, Jock’s daughter, and they later married.”

“There was only one problem for Harry. He had signed an amateur form for St Roch’s, which prevented him playing in the Scottish Secondary Shield – the schoolboy equivalent of the Scottish Cup.”

It is unclear whether that ban covered all rounds of the major competition or just the final. Holyrood progressed steadily with the key tie being a last-16 clash with Lanark Grammar, Willie Waddell’s old school. The Glasgow boys would eventually win 4-1 at the fourth attempt to reach the quarter-final. There they would face Our Lady’s High from Motherwell, whose colours had been worn with such distinction by both Billy McNeill and Bobby Murdoch. Indeed, Bobby would have been part of their 1960 winning team, as was the aforementioned John Cushley.

Holyrood would again triumph by 4-1, on Saturday, 24 February 1962, to set up a semi-final clash with St Gerard’s from Govan, where yet more future Lisbon Lions had developed their craft, Jim Craig winning Scotland schoolboy caps there the previous season whilst a 16-year-old Joe McBride would possibly have played in their cup-winning side of 1954. For the third successive Saturday, Holyrood would record a 4-1 win in the Scottish Secondary Shield, Harry’s boys now awaiting the winner of great rivals Lourdes and Falkirk High in the final.

As an aside, as Holyrood were beating St Gerard’s at their Dixon Road home, just a few miles away at Parkhead another of the immortal Lions was making his debut in the Hoops. With Ardeer Recreation’s Scottish Junior Cup dreams over, Bobby Lennox had been called up by Celtic, and on Saturday, 3 March 1962, the Saltcoats Bhoy played his part as a late Billy McNeill header secured a 2-1 win over Dundee, handing the title initiative to Rangers with just eight games remaining. Three years earlier, McGrory’s Hoops had beaten Hearts on the final day of the League season to literally hand the flag to Rangers. Bob Kelly may have divided opinion, however, there was certainly never any question around Celtic’s sporting integrity when he was at the helm.

The last day of March 1962 saw a virtual League decider for the Holyrood team, as they travelled to Cardonald to face Lourdes with the following line-up.

Denis Connaghan; Rigby & Tommy Doherty; P McLean, Andy McManus & Conrad La Pointe;
John Gartland, Harry Murphy, John McCafferty, Harry Hood & Gray.

The visitors had led the Division from the outset but would now see Lourdes overtake them following a 4-3 defeat. Holyrood were 3-0 down before John McCafferty pulled a goal back, and it was 4-1 before their two Harry’s – Hood and Murphy – set up a cliff-hanger of a finish. Harry Hood’s direct opponent, Frank McCarron, had been selected with him for the Glasgow Schools side back in November, and the powerful Scotland Schoolboys’ skipper would sign for Celtic on Monday, 28 May 1962. Lourdes would go on to clinch the Glasgow League title after the four Division 1 leaders played-off that same month.

As an aside, whilst Holyrood were going down at Cardonald, just a few miles away at Ibrox there were disgraceful scenes as Celtic lost their Scottish Cup semi-final to a Willie Fernie-inspired St Mirren. Bob Kelly allegedly conceded the tie before the pitch was cleared and the game restarted. Celtic lost 3-1.

April began with the postponement of the Scottish Secondary Shield final at Hampden due to concerns over the pitch cutting up ahead of the Scotland v England clash and the Scottish Cup final, where St Mirren would face Rangers after their Ibrox victory over Celtic. Monday, 9 April 1962 saw Lourdes once again come out on top with a 2-1 victory over Holyrood in the Cameronian Cup final at Cathkin. Five days later, there was finally some joy for Holyrood against their nemesis, as Harry’s boys beat Lourdes 5-1 in the first round of the Maley Trophy at Dixon Road. John Gartland opened the scoring within three minutes, before Harry “cleverly netted” the second and John McCafferty added a third. Gartland and McCafferty would each complete their doubles before a large crowd at the school in the shadow of Hampden. Meanwhile, inside the national stadium, a Scotland side including Billy McNeill and Paddy Crerand were beating England at home for the first time in 25 years, before more than 132,000 supporters. The Holyrood team who triumphed on Saturday, 14 April 1962 was as follows.

Denis Connaghan; Tommy Doherty & Gray; P McLean, Andy McManus & Conrad La Pointe;
John Gartland, T Jones, John McCafferty, Harry Hood & Harry Murphy.

Whether Harry had been forced to sit out the earlier rounds of the Scottish Secondary Shield remains unknown, however, there is no doubt that he missed out on the final. His replacement on the day would be none other than Jim McCalliog, who would later famously make his senior Scotland debut in the 3-2 victory over World Champions England at Wembley in April 1967, the 20-year-old Sheffield Wednesday forward scoring the winning goal on the day 36-year-old Celtic keeper Ronnie Simpson became the oldest Scotland debutant ever. Jim remembers the lead-up to that schools’ final very well.

“I was playing with Holyrood’s under 15’s at the time. Denis Cuddihy, who I believe is the uncle of Paul who works at Celtic, was our teacher, whilst John Murphy was the Head of PE and took charge of the seniors. It was Denis who gave me the heads-up that John wanted me to take Harry’s place in the final, as Harry was ineligible. I wasn’t that comfortable about it, to be honest. It was an honour to be asked but I was worried that it wouldn’t go down well with the team. It felt to me that there were others who had played their part in getting the team to the final, and that one of those reserves should step in. I remember thinking that, apart from anything else, I didn’t want a clip around the ear from one of the older guys. I asked Denis for time to think about it.”

“The decision was then taken out of my hands. John Murphy was adamant that I would play. He told the Under 18 squad that there were to be no repercussions for me. From memory, he said that the decision was his baby – not mine. And that was that. It was the only game I ever played for that team.”

On Tuesday, 15 May 1962, the Holyrood team lined up at Hampden for the Scottish Secondary Shield final against Falkirk High, as follows.

Denis Connaghan; J McQuillan & Tommy Doherty; P McLean, Andy McManus & Conrad La Pointe;
John Gartland, T Jones, John McCafferty, Jim McCalliog & Harry Murphy.

The match would turn out to be a one-sided affair, with John McCafferty putting Holyrood in front as early as the second minute, the powerful striker completing his hat-trick before half-time. He would grab his fourth late on, with John Gartland and Harry Murphy also on target as the blue-clad Holyrood boys won 6-0 to lift the prestigious shield for the first time in the school’s history. The cup final win would cap a pretty memorable few days in the life of the 15-year-old Jim McCalliog.

“That was a huge week for me personally. On the Saturday, I had played for the Scottish Schoolboys team who beat England 4-3 at Ibrox to lift the Victory Shield. Jim O’Rourke and Peter Lorimer, God rest him, were in that side. I walked from Ibrox to our home in the Gorbals and later that evening there was a knock on the door, and there’s a man standing outside who asked to speak with my mum. Turns out he was a Manchester United scout and they wanted me to go down to Old Trafford for a trial. But I had already promised Don Revie at Leeds I would go there, and I wanted to honour my word.”

“Strangely, although myself and the rest of the Under 15’s liked to watch the older team whenever we could, I don’t recall seeing Harry play at that time. I do remember him, and I would get to know him well. Harry was a clever guy, with a mischievous sense of humour. I do recall having a crush on his girlfriend Kathleen at school though! Usually, it was the teachers that was supposed to happen with!”

Matt Corr

To be continued.

Dedicated to the memory of the wonderful Denis Connaghan, gentleman and Celt.

Celtic’s condolences as posted on the club’s official website:

Everyone at Celtic is saddened to hear of the death of former goalkeeper, Denis Connaghan, who has passed away at the age of 79.

Over a six-year period between 1971 and ’77, Denis played 56 times for Celtic, winning three league titles, the Scottish Cup in 1974 and also the Drybrough Cup that same year.

He actually began his football career with Celtic back in 1963, but left the club a year later. He would go on to spend seven years with St Mirren before returning to Paradise when Jock Stein signed him in October 1971.

He made his debut that same month in a 2-1 league win against Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park, and he would go on to make 14 appearances that season, helping the Hoops win their seventh league title in a row.

During his time at Celtic, he competed with Evan Williams and Ally Hunter for the No.1 jersey, and he was in the side which took on Atletico Madrid in the 1974 European Cup semi-final, playing in both legs.

He was also in the starting XI when the Hoops beat Dundee United 3-0 at Hampden to win the Scottish Cup in 1974, while the previous week he had been part of the team which drew 1-1 away to Falkirk to clinch the club’s ninth successive league title.

Denis also famously saved two penalties against Rangers in the 1974 Drybrough Cup final shoot-out – Celtic’s only success in that short-lived competition.

Denis’ last game for Celtic came on October 6, 1976 in a 5-0 home win over Albion Rovers in the second leg of the League Cup quarter-final.

He left the club the following summer and had brief spells at Morton and Clyde before joining junior side, Arthurlie, in 1980.

Speaking back in March 2017, in an interview for the Celtic matchday programme, Denis Connaghan picked out his best Celtic memory.

“Being part of the Scottish Cup-winning team in 1974,” he said. “There were a couple of earlier finals where I was sitting on the bench or in the stand, so that 3-0 game against Dundee United was one that I really did enjoy. It was a great day for me and a great day for the team.

“Even down at Seamill on the morning of the final, I still wasn’t 100 per cent sure I was in the team. Big Jock had the team-talk and then he said, ‘Right, the team today will be, Denis in goal…’, and I thought, ‘what a relief’. There were no mobile phones in those days so I had to find a phone, then call home and say, ‘tell my Da I’m playing today’.’

The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Celtic are with Denis’ family and friends at this extremely sad time.

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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