A day’s reflection on the recent death of Willie O’Neill threw up fond memories of a classy full back who was a key component of the all-conquering Jock Stein player pool of 1966/67, the mighty squad that ultimately spawned the Lisbon Lions.
Willie was, in fact, first-pick that year, on the left of a full back pairing with Tommy Gemmell, until Stein settled around the turn of the year for the Craig/Gemmell formation that strode into immortality on 25th May 1967.
My abiding memory? Easy.
Had it not been for Willie’s materialisation from nowhere as time stood still during the 1-0 1966 League Cup Final victory over Rangers, who knows how different history might have become that season? His stunning goal-line clearance, which mirrored an earlier amusing incident when a youngster prevented one of the garish rangers balloons that had been released on to the pitch, from encroaching into the same Celtic goal, went a long way to securing that trophy to ensure the 66/67 clean sweep that is so cherished in Celtic folklore.
A great memory of a smashing guy.
Rest in peace, Willie.