For McNeill’s Celtic, the season would be defined by the following week’s Scottish Cup Final.
The sensational replay victory against St Mirren had been followed by a more straightforward win over Morton in the Quarter-final, a few days after the euphoria of beating Real Madrid. That set up a Semi-final tie with Hibernian at Hampden in April, a most untypical semi as Celts hit five without reply against the doomed Leith side.
For the Cup Final against Rangers, Celtic had a defensive dilemma, with regular central pairing Roddy MacDonald and Tom McAdam both suspended. The surprise choice to play beside Roy Aitken was midfielder Mike Conroy, who would have the game of his life against Ibrox strikers Johnstone and Smith. On a glorious sunny day at Hampden in front of 70,000 fans, both sides would have chances to win the famous old trophy.
The only goal came in the second period of extra-time, man-of-the-match Danny McGrain’s shot flicked into the opposite corner of the Rangers net by George McCluskey, leaving McCloy stranded. A nervous few minutes ensued before the final whistle created the famous black ash cloud at the Kings Park end of Hampden, as the vast Celtic support celebrated winning ‘our cup’ once again, after a two-year hiatus.
The shameful scenes which followed have been well-documented and diverted focus from a brave effort from a weakened Celtic side, still suffering the hangovers from European and League defeats. Also, sadly, the final game of his Celtic career for that fabulous servant, Lisbon Lion Bobby Lennox, after eighteen superb years, a medal collection to die for and more goals than anyone other than McGrory, is often overlooked in favour of less savoury headlines.
Following the loss of the title at Love Street, Bobby’s fellow Lion, manager Billy McNeill, had vowed to win the Cup and the next season’s title as a gesture of thanks and appreciation to the Celtic support, who had stuck with the team through a difficult second half of that season.
Now, as a new era beckoned in Scottish football with the threat from the North-East, Cesar had delivered on the first part of that promise.
There would be interesting times ahead.