By Gareth Ewing
Denis Connaghan will go down in Cappielow folklore as the custodian who played a massive part in a massive 1977/78 season.
It was a season that turned out to be the fantastically successful trailer for the following campaign, when Morton really made their mark on Scottish football.
From a personal perspective, Denis was the first goalkeeper that I remember. The first that I can associate with.
And the first that comes to mind when I recount my memories of those between the sticks at Cappielow, with Roy Baines a very, very close second.
Having had two spells at Celtic Park, a period in the United States, and making over 100 appearances for our good friends in Paisley, Denis joined the Ton in 1977 and played in 59 games.
Those appearances came over the course of the the 1977/78 and 78/79 seasons – probably two of the most successful in recent living memory …
Denis, do you recall how your move to Cappielow transpired?
I was at Celtic when I was 17 and Benny Rooney and Mike Jackson were there also. We had crossed paths a few times after that and it was Mike I met. He asked me what I was up to. I said I was without a club and Mike offered to have a chat with Benny about the possibility of coming to Cappielow. At the time, Hal Stewart was Mr Morton and he secured the deal. I was always part-time and simply wanted to play football. I wasn’t in it for the money [and] just wanted to play. Andy Ritchie was at Cappielow as well, of course, and we were at Celtic at the same time; therefore, I had some contacts there. But again, I simply wanted to play, and it was a great opportunity to join Benny and the team. Morton had a great backroom staff, with Hal, Benny, Mike and of course, Allan McGraw, who was in charge of the reserves at the time.
And that championship-winning season, what memories do you have?
It wasn’t an easy league to win, you know. We all got on really well. Davie Hayes, George Anderson, Bobby Russell and John Goldthorp to name but a few. No cliques, we played as a team. We played for the jersey and the club. Hearts and Dundee were the key rivals. We had some tremendous tussles with those teams. I remember winning the title against Airdrie, when big Goldy [Goldthorp] scored. Big Andy scored also. Some of the things he would do were unbelievable. He was a law unto himself mind you, but what a player. We had some cracking players: George Anderson was a great centre-half, Neil Orr went down south to West Ham. And the full-backs were as good as any that were around at the time – [Davie] Hayes and [Jim] Holmes. Mark McGhee was also there at the start of the season and went on to have a great career with Aberdeen, Celtic, and Scotland. Some of the players were perhaps unfortunate not to have gone on to play at the highest level. Another to mention specifically was John Goldthorp. He certainly knew where the goal was. A great signing for Morton. I had played against him when he was at Motherwell. Great in the air, [a] very good link-up man and led the line. Now, there was another boy who I remember, [an] American boy – Dave Brcic. Dave was one of Hal’s signings. He arrived from nowhere and suddenly was in the team and I was on the sidelines! Good keeper, though.
And working under Benny Rooney?
Benny was a good manager. I knew him socially as well, of course. I never had any run-ins with him. He was very honest. If you were not playing, he would be tell you why. Benny and Mike were a good partnership and coaching team. I remember he asked Erik Sorensen to come down and do some coaching with us and I really enjoyed that. Erik obiously had a good pedigree, a continental keeper who had different thoughts around how to coach, rather than hammering balls into keepers’ hands until they were broken! But yes, I got on well with Benny. [An] honest manager, and I enjoyed my time with him. I remember him at St Johnstone and he was a good player. Benny stuck by the players.
Did you enjoy your time at Cappielow?
I simply enjoyed my football. From day one, I always enjoyed football. Yes, there was the Celtic element from early in my career, but whoever I played with, I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed my time at Cappielow and was lucky to win a league championship medal. It was great to have won the league title with a team like Morton and get them into the Premier Division. I loved the atmosphere at Cappielow, with the crowd being really close to the players. Morton were always good to me.
Have you been back at Cappielow recently and do you still look out for the scores?
I went to the function for the team that won the league a few years ago and I pass Cappielow every Monday morning with my job. It is lovely as I drive past, every week, have a glance to the right and have a little look … and the memories come flooding back. I had two great years at Morton and loved it. Lovely memories.
Be sure to purchase a copy of our fantastic 48-page matchday magazine, printed by publishers Curtis Sport, at each home game this season for more of Gareth’s interviews as well as all of our regular features.
Back issues are also available and these can be purchased by visiting the office here at Cappielow or by contacting us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01475 723571.