WITH a Premiership game against Aberdeen coming up on Wednesday and strict coronavirus restrictions in place, Callum Davidson refused to allow his St Johnstone players to toast their Betfred Cup semi-final win over Hibernian with a drink on Saturday night.
“The gaffer wouldn’t let us crack open bottles of beer or anything like that,” said Saints forward Craig Conway as he looked back on the convincing 3-0 triumph. “I don’t think that would work with social distancing.”
Yet, for Conway, the former Scotland internationalist who scored twice as Dundee United won the Scottish Cup back in 2010 and is no stranger to Hampden celebrations, the experience was every bit as enjoyable as those he had savoured at the world-famous venue previously.
“It was amazing,” he said. “These are the times that you look back on when your career is over. You remember the way it felt in the dressing room. It was still a brilliant place to be. I’ll never forget that feeling.”
Covid-19 constraints will still be in place when the McDiarmid Park club return to the national stadium on February 28 and fans will once again not be in attendance.
But Conway, who set up Shaun Rooney for St Johnstone’s second goal at the weekend and then netted the third himself, has no concerns about the lack of atmosphere diminishing the occasion.
In fact, he is certain the showpiece match will give everyone at the Perth club – who have only been involved in three major finals in their entire 137 year history – and all of their supporters a huge and much-needed lift during a dark and difficult period.
“I’ve had some great times at Hampden,” he said. “I just love playing here. It would be so much better if there were fans, but there’s just something about the place. I get a good feeling. I have got a lot of happy memories here. Hopefully, we can take it one step further.
“I’ve had big days in my career, I’ve been lucky enough to gain promotions and stuff like that. But that day (the 2010 final) in particular was special. You could see what it meant to the city.
“It’s hard because you are not seeing the fans every week at McDiarmid. They are not getting in to watch us. But I’m sure there will have been a lot of happy faces watching us on TV on Saturday. There’s no doubt about it, the final is massive for us.”
Conway continued: “If I’m being honest I don’t think I truly appreciated how much the fans make football. These last few months have changed that. As soon as the whistle went at Hampden on Saturday, there was silence. I’ve played there when it’s packed out.
“I can only imagine how many St Johnstone supporters would have loved to have been there to see it and would love to be at the final. But that’s the situation we’re in. For us, at the end of the game the feeling is just the same for us as it would normally be if you’ve won a semi-final.
“It is strange to have been here for months and never played in front of a St Johnstone fan. The whole thing is surreal. I don’t get involved in social media, but I can appreciate how much this will mean to our supporters.
“It must have been nerve-wracking it must be to watch it at home and not even be able to go to the pub with their pals. They’ll have their kids running about the house and they’ll not have been able to concentrate!”
Conway and his St Johnstone team mates had no difficulty focusing on Saturday. They withstood intense early pressure from Hibs, took the lead with their first meaningful attack when Jason Kerr headed in a David Wotherspoon corner and then dominated thereafter.
The former Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers and Salford City player feels the younger members of Davidson’s squad will have had their self-belief bolstered ahead of the final by the performance and result against opponents who are in fourth place in the top flight.
“It will stand us in good stead,” he said. “We have got a lot of younger lads and the only way you gain experience is by being in situations like this. It will do them a lot of good going through that on Saturday.
“They put us under a lot of pressure early on and we finished really strong. Defensively we were sound as well. Hopefully we can really build on that and take confidence from it. We’ve got games before the final, but the final is a massive chance for us to go and win a trophy.
“Our opponents will be thinking the same. But we’ve got winners in this squad. We know that it’s one thing getting to a final, now it’s about winning it.”
Conway is hopeful his display in the semi-final and the fact he has been involved in finals before will ensure he is in the St Johnstone starting line-up at Hampden next month.
“I went in to speak to the manager after I didn’t play the next game after scoring against Ross County (Dundee United at Tannadice),” he said. “I felt I had played well. But we’ve got a really good group of players who feel the same.
“Maybe that did have something to do with getting picked for the semi – experience of playing games like that. Hopefully I justified his faith in me and hopefully it will be the same for the final.”