The Celtic Star’s Denis Connaghan Tribute

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The Celtic Star’s tribute to Denis Connaghan…

Part 2: A Bhoy’s dream comes true – League and Cup glory for Denis at Celtic

In Part 1 of our tribute to the late Denis Connaghan we looked at his arrival at Celtic Park in the autumn of 1971 to reunite with his old schoolboy teammate Harry Hood, together with the circumstances of a decade earlier which saw Denis win the Scottish Secondary Shield – the Scottish Cup of school’s football – whilst Holyrood’s star striker Harry had to look on from the sidelines, due to his brief spell in junior football with St Roch’s.

Harry would get his hands on the senior trophy three times as a Celt whilst Denis would go on to secure what must be a unique treble of Hampden cup final appearances at different grades of football. The second of those would end in victory as a Celt with his friend Harry for company in the Scottish Cup final of May 1974, before the big keeper finished his career on the losing side as Pollok beat Arthurlie 1-0 in the Scottish Junior Cup final seven years later at the same venue. But much water would flow beneath their respective bridges in the interim.

Harry would be playing First Division football with Clyde as an 18-year-old by the autumn of 1962 whilst Denis was provisionally signed by Jimmy McGrory’s Celtic in May 1963, then farmed out to Yoker Athletic for the season which followed. He did appear in the reserves. Denis recalled playing for the second-string at Celtic Park as the first team were blowing dreams of a European final and a three-goal first-leg advantage over MTK in Budapest on Wednesday, 29 April 1964.

That would have been a 2-1 defeat by Dundee, Celtic’s goal scored by a player with an unusual name, Stephen Gnaulati. Denis certainly played in a 4-1 win over Kilmarnock’s reserve side at Celtic Park on Saturday, 21 March 1964, where his teammates included Willie O’Neill, Jim Brogan and Charlie Gallagher, but he was released at the end of that season and returned to Yoker. From there he moved to Renfrew Juniors, attracting much senior interest before being snapped up by St Mirren on Friday, 10 June 1966.

Football has this incredible habit of throwing up great stories, and Denis’ senior debut was a classic case in point. The Evening Times of Friday, 4 November 1966 led with the headline “Saints field new ‘keeper” as Connaghan prepared for a baptism of fire against champions Celtic the next day. His surname was spelt incorrectly, not for the first or last time.

Denis Connachan, a Glasgow wages clerk who only a few months ago was playing goalkeeper for Renfrew Juniors, is given the toughest job in Scottish football tomorrow – keeping out the Celtic sharp-shooters at Celtic Park when he plays in goal for St Mirren. Connachan replaces Jim Thorburn, who loses his ever-present record.

In four games against Celtic this year Thorburn has conceded 17 goals. At Love Street on April 5, Celtic beat Saints 3-0 and four days later at Celtic Park, Celtic won 5-0. This season, Celtic beat St Mirren 8-2 at Celtic Park in the League Cup on August 20 and then won 1-0 in the return League Cup tie at Paisley on September 3.

Now Thorburn, who lost six goals against Rangers at Love Street in midweek, drops out of a recast St Mirren side. Also out are experienced Bobby Adamson and outside-right Kenny Aird, an ex-Celt.

Both Bobby Lennox, who missed the game against Stirling Albion on Wednesday with a chill, and inside right Charlie Gallagher, who strained a leg deputising for Lennox, are fit, but Celtic won’t name their team until just before the game.

As it turned out, that team would include nine of the men who would win the European Cup in Lisbon six months later, flu victim Billy McNeill and the yet-to-be-signed Willie Wallace the two exceptions. Tommy Gemmell played at centre-half, with Denis’ former reserve teammate Willie O’Neill covering at full-back, whilst Scotland’s top goalscorer Joe McBride led the attack. But the match would be a personal triumph for Denis, the big keeper outstanding as Saints held the Hoops to a 1-1 draw, the first point dropped by Stein’s men that season. Only a 30-yard thunderbolt from Gemmell prevented a clean sheet for the debutant, with another future Celtic colleague Bobby Murdoch later ordered off following an off-the-ball incident.

Continued on the next page…

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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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