THE adrenaline rush from an extraordinary victory has never been so quickly and cruelly flushed away.
This morning there is a lump of silver in the Kilmarnock trophy room which has never been seen there before. They won the Scottish Communities League Cup against Celtic – and against all the odds – in an afternoon of heavy emotion at Hampden.
They will have the cup for at least a year but the joy of victory was snatched from them within minutes. They were sombre, deflated winners, immediately brought down to earth by the heart attack suffered by midfielder Liam Kelly's father as the match neared its end. He was sitting near the Kilmarnock dug-out when he took ill, and suddenly the commotion of medical staff scrambling to treat him became an awful distraction from the play.
It put a grotesque new complexion on the day and on the Ayrshire side's victory. The result should have been the big shock of the day; the subsequent one was horrible. All Kilmarnock's tears ought to have been reserved for what their admirable team pulled off on the pitch. Clubs of their kind have the optimism and hope bludgeoned out of them by year after year of unremitting defeats and misery against the Old Firm. At odds of 8/1 they weren't expected to provide more than cannon fodder again this time. What unfolded instead was one of the glorious results in their history.
Not since 1998 had Celtic or Rangers lost a domestic cup final to anyone other than each other, but Celtic punched themselves out and couldn't find a way to get the better of Cammy Bell, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper. His performance was perhaps one of the most inspirational displays seen at Hampden. He single-handedly kept Celtic on nil.
There was also drama in stoppage time when Michael Nelson appeared to clip Anthony Stokes' heels in the box. It looked like a penalty – although opinion among neutral onlookers were split on that – but Willie Collum instead booked Stokes for diving. That was an enormous call from the referee and Neil Lennon and plenty of others were apoplectic about him. The Celtic manager's angry remarks would have made bigger headlines had later events not made them small and meaningless. Besides, given Celtic's unreliability from 12 yards Bell would have fancied his chances of saving a penalty too.
Not since Jean-Joel Pierre-Doumbe won a Scottish Cup for Celtic has one of the finals been decided by such an unlikely character. Dieter van Tornhout, celebrating his 27th birthday, got the only goal and created a scramble for more information on who on earth he was. The big Belgian had only been on the park for barely 10 minutes. "Dieter has been very quiet since he joined us," said Gary Harkins in the match programme. "He converses away in Dutch to 'Danny Dutch' [Danny Buijs] and that's about it."
Harkins teased him in print for not getting involved in enough conversations, but the rest of the team couldn't swamp him quickly enough when he rammed a header into the net six minutes from the end of a compelling final. Lee Johnson found space down the left and delivered a wonderful cross into the box and there was Van Tornhout to score. Kelvin Wilson's attempt to defend it looked half-hearted and dozy, reflecting his overall performance.
It was not Collum who ended Celtic's hopes of a treble. Lennon's side were inexplicably flat, just as they had been when too many players failed to show up in last season's final against Rangers. Wilson, Stokes, Gary Hooper, Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Joe Ledley will all wish to wipe the day from their memories.
Wilson was unimpressive long before the goal and it made no sense for him to stay on the field when Thomas Rogne was substituted instead after 56 minutes. Even during a second half in which Celtic dominated, much was undone by poor crosses, awful free-kicks, and players being caught in possession. They lacked the wit or quality to break down Kilmarnock.
The Rugby Park side lost Buijs to injury after 20 minutes yet that coincided with their emergence into the match after Celtic's early pressing. The winners delivered a strong first half, constantly harrying and frustrating their opponents, yet had it not been for Bell the final would have had a far more predictable outcome. He saved from Hooper, Stokes, Scott Brown, Stokes again, Victor Wanyama, Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons. Add a bad miss from Ledley after Hooper had put him through and Collum was entitled to feel that Lennon had a cheek to blame him for the result.
It wasn't a smash-and-grab victory. Dean Shiels had a couple of first-half shots, Mohamadou Sissoko's header was cleared off the line by Stokes, and Paul Heffernan and Shiels again had efforts blocked by Fraser Forster in the Celtic goal. Even as the waves of attacks came at them in the second half Kilmarnock had enough residual quality to deny the favourites and worry them in a host of counter-attacks.
One of those brought the goal which delivered the great upset. It was desperately cruel that that phrase so quickly took another meaning.