CHRIS McCART will be confronted by his past, present and future at Hampden this afternoon.
The past involves Motherwell, the club he represented with some distinction as a player for 14 years before offering similar dedication as their head of youth development for a further eight seasons. The present takes in Celtic and his relationship with manager Neil Lennon as the Northern Irishman looks to end a two-year trophy drought by claiming the first silverware of his fledgling managerial career.
The future will be represented by the scattering of youth players sitting around him at Hampden, those he is helping shape and encourage in his current role as head of Celtic’s youth academy. McCart remains thoroughly focused on the work he is undertaking at Lennoxtown – during a 30-minute interview it is the subject he is clearly most at ease talking about – but he would need to be made of stone not to be moved by Motherwell’s return to the Scottish Cup final after a 20-year absence.
McCart will forever retain legendary status in the town for his role in that 1991 triumph, when Tommy McLean’s side eventually put Dundee United to the sword in an enthralling final. It was Motherwell’s first major trophy since 1952 and they have won nothing of any great significance since. Little wonder, then, that the few who have brought success to the club are still worshipped to this day.
“If someone had said to me 20 years ago, when we won it in 1991, that we’d be still talking about that final today I’d never have believed them,” he told Herald Sport. “But that shows you that these occasions don’t happen every year at a club like Motherwell. It was the only major trophy I won in my 14 years there and you can see how the fans still relate to that team.”
This was undoubtedly the finest hour of that Motherwell side, but also their final one. Several players had left by the start of the next season and in the intervening years four of the squad have died, adding further poignancy to this afternoon’s proceedings.
“It was an excellent Motherwell side but we never played together again after that final,” added McCart. “Ally Maxwell and Craig Paterson had contractual problems and moved on, and there’s been tragedy more recently with Davie Cooper, Phil O’Donnell, Jamie Dolan and Paul McGrillen all having passed on. So there will be a sadness as well when you look back and think about that day, especially for the families of those guys who died. That will be hard for them, but they should think of the fond memories as well.”
Evidence of McCart’s past will be on the field, as well. He has been responsible for the graduation of a raft of players from Motherwell’s youth ranks, many of whom will be lining up in claret and amber today. Modestly, he deflects the credit for that success.
“When a young player makes his debut, racks up 100 appearances, is sold on or whatever, there are loads of people who will say they were a part of that, but ultimately it comes down to the player himself. It’s never down to one individual in the background, it’s about the system as a whole, and the ethos and philosophy of the club. Motherwell historically has always had a very good youth development programme. Even as far back as the 1991 team there were about six homegrown players involved.”
His Motherwell past will have no bearing on his loyalties, though, this afternoon. “There are no mixed emotions. I’m at Celtic now and so I want the manager and the team here to win the trophy. I know the players at Motherwell very well – both the young ones and the experienced ones like Stephen Craigan, Steven Hammell and Keith Lasley – and they are all very good professionals, but I’m looking for Celtic to win, especially when you consider the year the manager’s just had. It would be difficult to put into words what he’s gone through – it’s hard to even imagine it – but he’s handled it all very well. Even leaving that aside, there won’t be any sentiment towards Motherwell, not during the game. There are a lot of good people there, but all my thoughts will be totally focused on Celtic.”
McCart has few plans to move from his role at Celtic in the foreseeable future. “When you take a job on like Celtic you realise it’s not short-term. I look on it as a long-term project and my drive is just the same as when I started. There’s nothing better than going to a game and seeing a young player with excellent potential. That’s what makes it worthwhile. It’s not about teams, it’s about individuals and giving them that pathway and nurturing them along.
“There’s a responsibility too, especially here at Celtic with bigger budgets and more demands. But the support you get from the board and the management team is second to none. That makes it a lot easier. I love doing this job.”
interview A Scottish Cup winner with Motherwell is shaping the next Celtic team and urging this one to victory, writes Graeme Macpherson