Treat it like it’s your last shot at glory

McDowall will fire up his 30-some­things to re­peat his Ham­p­den hero­ics of 1987

The Herald - Sport - - LEAGUE CUP SEMI-FINALS - MICHAEL GRANT

IN the lex­i­con of Old Firm cliches there is one that ad­vises ev­ery player to savour the oc­ca­sion as if it will be his last.

The in­struc­tion may seem sim­ple common sense for some of the Rangers play­ers and to the man who will lead them on Sun­day, Kenny McDowall. It would be in­cred­i­ble if McDowall’s stint as care­taker man­ager ex­tended into next sea­son and more po­ten­tial meet­ings with Celtic.

By the time Rangers next take on their old en­emy it also could be too late for 36-year-old Lee McCul­loch, 35-yearold Kenny Miller, 32-year-old Jon Daly and even 31-year-old Kris Boyd.

No-one takes a mo­ment to stop and smell the flow­ers on Old Firm day. The hours, and cer­tainly the 90 min­utes of ac­tual play – maybe 120 or more if Sun­day’s one goes to ex­tra-time and penal­ties – pass in a fren­zied blur.

But this time the old heads in the Rangers ranks may find it im­pos­si­ble to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to pause and take it all in.

It is an idea McDowall will try to use to Rangers’ ad­van­tage by re­call­ing an in­spir­ing episode of a team-mate in the twi­light of his own ca­reer. Frank McGar­vey was one of his St Mir­ren team-mates in their mem­o­rable 1987 Scot­tish Cup fi­nal vic­tory over Dundee United.

Hav­ing been on the books at Liver­pool and Celtic McGar­vey, although still only 31 at the time, sus­pected his best days were be­hind him. In­stead, the ‘87 fi­nal un­folded as one of the great days of his sport­ing life.

Some­thing sim­i­lar could hap­pen for McCul­loch, Miller, Daly et al, or at least so McDowall will tell them. “They will prob­a­bly ap­pre­ci­ate it more be­ing at the age they are at,” he said. “I can re­mem­ber play­ing with Frank McGar­vey in ‘87. Never did he think he would ever win a cup again.

“I will never for­get his words. He said to ev­ery one of us: ‘En­joy this mo­ment be­cause cup fi­nals don’t come ev­ery day. You think you al­ways have a chance, but they are few and far be­tween.’ He was so right. I am sure that Kenny, Lee McCul­loch, Jon Daly, the older guys, will ap­pre­ci­ate where they are in their ca­reers and that it could be their last chance to win a bit of sil­ver­ware in terms of cups.”

Cup fi­nals and semi-fi­nals can be ro­man­tic, or they can be un­for­giv­ing. McCul­loch, Miller and the rest may face their last hur­rah in Old Firm terms or their age and lack of pace may be ex­posed by Celtic team which is gen­er­ally younger and stronger.

“They are a very good side,” said McDowall, who sent a decade as a youth and re­serve team coach at Park­head be­fore mov­ing to Rangers in 2007. “We know that to win the tie we’re go­ing to have to play well and we’re go­ing to have to carry luck. I think you need all th­ese fac­tors. It’s the semi-fi­nal of a cup. That’s a tough game be­cause you are so close to get­ting to a big game, but you can be so far away. We are un­der no il­lu­sion, Celtic are a good team and we will need to play well to beat them.”

So what made him be­lieve Rangers could win? “Cup foot­ball is cup foot­ball. It’s a one-off game and so far we have done well against the Premier­ship teams in the cup com­pe­ti­tions. We’re look­ing for­ward to Sun­day’s game. Ob­vi­ously Celtic are big favourites for this one, it would be a great achieve­ment if we win.”

It had been a nor­mal week around Rangers, said McDowall, a remark al­ways li­able to pro­voke snig­gers given go­ings-on at that per­ma­nently ab­nor­mal club. He meant the train­ing ses­sions had been rou­tine. “As we get to­wards the end of the week we will do some tac­ti­cal stuff but the fit­ness stuff has just been nor­mal. We have done some TV stuff each day, just snip­pets, but we are just go­ing about our business and do­ing our train­ing.”

McDowall never played for Rangers or Celtic but in his first five sea­sons at Ibrox, as first-team coach un­der Wal­ter Smith and as­sis­tant man­ager un­der Ally McCoist, he be­came a sea­soned touch­line par­tic­i­pant in Old Firm dra­mas. At 51, he has been pushed out into the spot­light on his own for this one. Did he ex­pect to man­age any sleep on Satur­day night? A smile. “I have no idea how that will be . . .”

Pic­ture: SNS

SIT­TING PRETTY: Kenny McDowall, bot­tom row cen­tre, cel­e­brates Scot­tish Cup glory with St Mir­ren in 1987.

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