By Colin Byiers
In 2010, Irishman Sean Dillon was part of the Dundee United team that won the Scottish Cup, defeating Ross County 3-0 at Hampden Park. It wasn’t the first piece of silverware Dillon had won; he had won numerous titles in his homeland of Ireland before arriving in Scotland in 2007.
Sean spoke with me recently about that 2010 winning side and what it meant to him and his family.
Firstly Sean, before you arrived at Dundee United, were you aware of the history of the club and it’s successes in the 1980’s?
No, I wasn’t. My knowledge was limited. I knew about the two clubs being on the same street! I had read about the 1984 European adventure, the Roma issue, when Roma had beaten United in the Semi Final. Other than that, my knowledge was pretty limited about the club.
So, were you surprised by the size of the club?
I walked into the club. It was brilliant. The size of the stadium compared to a normal stadium in Ireland, no disrespect, they aren’t as big. Then you kind of realise, that this is a big club. I didn’t need to be blown away really.
Peter Houston and Craig Levein were unbelievably good with me and spoke of their ambitions for the club. Then I met Eddie Thompson who was another brilliant man. So, it was an easy decision really. There was no talk of money or anything like that, it was a case of “when can I start”. It wasn’t like I was coming from another club that was as big or similar. In stature, back home, Shelbourne is a very respected club, but it’s the size of it and the fanbase was much bigger.
A year after joining, you were in the squad for the League Cup Final against Rangers, when you lost on penalties. What were your memories of that?
I don’t have fond memories of the day because I didn’t play, obviously. It’s not the same. I was a huge disappointment the day before to find out I wasn’t going to be playing. I still prepared for the game. I was convinced I would get on at some stage. I was convinced I was going to be needed at some stage. There are no grudges held, but it’s the disappointment of not being involved. I wasn’t totally down about it. There were fellas crying in the dressing room afterwards, which was totally understandable. So emotionally drained over it, but I wasn’t. I hadn’t been emotionally involved in the game the way they had.
Eddie Thompson came in after the game and apologised. He went round the lads individually. He was severely ill at the time. He came up to me and apologised to me for not playing and thanked me for my efforts. Nobody was more disappointed than the chairman, but he took it so graciously afterwards. I can’t say enough about him, particularly when he was so ill at the time.
It was one of those games that it didn’t go as well as we wanted to have. The lads were incredible during the game and I know there is a huge amount of anger and frustration about some of the decisions that were giving or not giving in some cases! Ultimately, the lads played excellently well and were really unlucky.
For a club like Dundee United, the league is probably too unrealistic a target, so do you target a good cup run or even target winning one of the domestic trophies?
It’s almost certain that Celtic or Rangers are going to win the League, so getting your hands on a trophy boils down to either the League Cup or (Scottish) Cup. I didn’t realise this, but away days for the fans. It is a big day out on a Scottish Cup day. You don’t appreciate just how big a deal it is for the fans. There was always a buzz and anticipation about it. It was always in your head that this was an opportunity to win something.
You had tricky away ties at Partick Thistle and then St Johnstone in the opening rounds.
When you look at it, they (Partick Thistle) are a team below us in the leagues, but it’s away from home and it’s going to be a tricky tie and it proved to be. Damian Casalinuovo used the old Argentinian hand to get himself a goal! It’s hard to believe. I was warming up at one corner flag and he scored at the other post which was the near post to where the lineo was and it was clear as day that he handballed it. I have no idea how the linesman didn’t pick it up, but thankfully Goodie (David Goodwillie) got a second goal, a brilliant goal actually, to give us the 2-0 victory.
St Johnstone is a slightly different story obviously, being a Premier League team. Always a tricky place to go to and Goodie again scored the winner. Delighted to get away with the win. You go into that one knowing that if you win it you are into the Quarter-Final. There’s always a financial benefit to a good cup run but for us it was like “Jesus, we’re in the Quarter-Final!”. There was a good buzz. Houston had taken over by then and we were getting things back on track again. We were doing well in the league, but I’d be lying if I said we were looking anywhere past the Quarter-Final at that time.
The Quarter-Final draw saw you drawn away for the third time, this time against Rangers, a team you had already lost to 3-0 at home and 7-1 at Ibrox. It wasn’t the ideal draw was it?
No, 100% it wasn’t! When you think you have a chance at winning a cup, you don’t want the Old Firm. If you are a team down the leagues and don’t have a chance at winning the cup, then you are buzzing to get Celtic or Rangers. When the draw came out, you have a trust in your ability and how things are going. There was an anger after the 7-1 game that you wanted to put right. We got it back through two unlikely scorers. I know Andis Shala was a striker, but he didn’t play a lot of games for us. So, for him to score and Michael Kovacevic to score very unlikely scores at the time. We left there with a (3-3) draw, still in it and now we are thinking that they’ve got to come to our place and we’ve shown we can handle ourselves against this team. The Wednesday night was bouncing. There is nothing like playing a game under the lights. I was used to playing under lights back in Ireland because we played every game at night, but that was in front of 1000, or 2000 people, but Tannadice that night was bouncing! The game went reasonably well for us and obviously David Robertson got his backside in the way to score the winner! He’s called himself the “Treble Buster” since, as Rangers went on to win the League and League Cup that year. Thankfully we held on and the place was bouncing, really buzzing. For me, I’m not a Gary MacKay-Steven type player, I don’t get people out of their seats, but to be part of a team that can please people and make people happy and to give them something to celebrate, there’s nothing better. After the game Ally McCoist was a class act. In the tunnel, out of sight of everyone, congratulated every player by name, and wished us well for the next round. That always stood out for me. After that, of course, you know you have a game at Hampden to look forward to. It was an enjoyable Wednesday night!
Your Semi-Final was on the Sunday, so you were able to see Ross County knock favourites Celtic out on the Saturday. Did that give you an extra lift for your game?
We watched the game in the Hotel we were staying at, and when we saw it was 1-0 and as the game continues, you look at and think “Celtic aren’t scoring here”. Then they get the second goal, and it was just crazy. Now we know that we are playing in the Semi-Final against an equivalent of a League 1 team in Raith Rovers, and if you win that, then you’re playing a Championship team in the final. What more do you want? Some people say “well, what if you could beat Celtic in the semi and then Rangers in the final or vice versa, wouldn’t that be better?”. Well maybe, but it doesn’t mention that on the trophy. Listen, Raith and Ross County got to the semis for a reason. Celtic got upset in their game and we go the scare. I credit Peter Houston, Gary Kirk, Paul Hegarty, Stevie Banks, the kitman, Craig Reynolds the physio, Derek Robertson, all the staff really, so many good people, for keeping us grounded and help us prepare in the right way. We knew the upset was possible. It wasn’t the greatest game to watch, but the professionalism in the performance came from Houston and his team. We did the job winning 2-0, and that was how we saw it. It was a job we needed to do and get to the final.
What were the preparations for the final like?
We decided to train as normal for the week of the final. Some teams like to go away and stay somewhere for 5 or 6 days and train. That wasn’t for us. We kept the same routine and I give Houston a lot of credit for that because the option to go away would have been there, but he kept it the same. Derek Robertson would try to explain to us what potential would happen if we won, trying to build it up for you, you know. “There’ll be a bus, we’ll have t-shirts,” he’d say. It gave us a buzz that we knew we could win it. Was there nerves and anxiousness? Probably. Some of the lads were nervous in case they weren’t going to be in the team. I still get nervous even now for matches. I just want to do my best for the team. I was nervous for the final. Andy Webster was the captain at the time and myself and Jon Daly would help him out with stuff, like organising the tickets for families, stuff like that. It was a good distraction away from worrying about stuff on the pitch. There was a lot of media, a lot of press. People everywhere wanting pictures, interviews etc and it goes on for a few days. It’s great, absolutely great to be a part of because a lot of the other players are on holiday by then. Once we got to Cameron House, you chill out and train lightly for what is the biggest game of your career.
How important was Peter Houston on the morning of the game to help ease the nerves?
There was a buzz of getting the Police escort along the road, the (Police) bikes are stopping traffic and the bus is flying passed the other traffic. Then you start getting closer to Hampden and you start passing cars with flags and it starts to hit home that this is big! Even though people were saying there is 26/27,000 tickets sold, you don’t realise that until you are in there. Houston was brilliant. I remember him getting a polystyrene cup, and he gave a bit of a speech and spoke very well. Then he kicked the cup. That was his way of saying to take the cup home. After the game and we’d won, Jon Daly and Craig Conway put the actual Scottish Cup in the middle of the dressing room and gave it a bit of a kick!
Everything, I think that morning, was planned to a tea by Houston. All his preparation and stuff, went how I think he would have wanted it to have gone. I have nothing but praise for him and his team talk before we went out was brilliant.
How did you asses the first half, which ended 0-0?
We kept it tight, and we had a couple of opportunities, but I don’t remember anything around our box that troubled us. I remember Swanny going over in the box and I think these days, he’s getting a penalty for it. I felt we were knocking on the door and it was coming, but they hadn’t done anything yet. There was an element of, “are they going to do something? Or have we seen and we’ve delt with it really well?” They played better against Celtic and created opportunities, whereas I don’t remember them creating opportunities (in the final). Houston deserves a lot of credit again at half time. He told us we were doing fine and it’s coming. Keep going basically.
The half time talk obviously worked as Goodwillie scored early in the second period.
Goodie got a brilliant goal. Mick McGovern, the goalie, came out and it was a good header, but it was brilliance from Goodie to put it where he did. On another day, it might bounce a yard further back and go over. Things like that happen. I think that (goal) settled us. It forced them to chase it a little bit more.
The second goal goes in and you think we’re pretty much there, but the third goal goes in and you have about 6 or 7 minutes of enjoyment. We’ve won the cup! It’s very seldom you have that feeling in a game, knowing that you can enjoy the last few minutes, because even in a league game when you are 4-0 up, you don’t want to concede because the manager will then throw a wobbler. They weren’t going to score 3 goals. They might have got one, but my feeling that day was that was it done. It’s difficult to enjoy a game that big but when the third goal went it, you do then relax and take the atmosphere in. I think the third goal was the only one I celebrated! I would usually get back into position and maybe be look to the bench for some instructions, but this time I went over to (Craig) Conway and enjoyed myself!
What’s your emotions when the final whistle goes?
It was more about seeing how much everyone else was buzzing, Peter and his staff. Then you had the directors, and the families. Then you look up into the stands and there is 27,000 people absolutely buzzing! I played a part in that, and there is no better feeling than making some else feel happy.
That was my emotions at the time. There is then a calm before you go to lift the cup. The walk up the steps is a special moment. For me it was incredible to be able to go and lift the Scottish Cup. It’s a massive honour. Then you start to get giddy again as you walk down the steps. You just want to lap it up. We didn’t want to leave the pitch and the fans didn’t want to leave the stands! I don’t know how long it was before we went back into the dressing room, but even when we did get back in there, there is still a buzz, because a couple of the lads were dancing around naked! Some of them were trying to drink out of the cup! It was brilliant. Houston then has to say something and say well done and enjoy it. That’s when I learned about “the Dee’s are in their bed” song. Gary Kirk introduced it to me. “United are having a party, The Dee’s are in their bed!” He pretty much sang that song for the next 2 days straight! On the bus, in the dressing room, in the showers, he would just start it and everyone would get on it.
On the bus on the way back, some of the lads wanted to get a drink, and we ended up at the Westerwood Hotel. Me, Jon Daly and Andy Webster got off the bus, as we had the kitty, and went into the reception area. When we walked in, the entire Ross County staff and players were all there having a drink because that’s where they stayed! We couldn’t get our medals tucked into our shirts quickly enough! Once we got our drinks and went back on the bus, we were falling about the place laughing and telling everyone what happened.
How did the cup win compare with your wins in Ireland?
It’s bigger. An FAI cup is a big deal but in Scotland, football is the main thing in this country. To win a Scottish Cup is massive. I have no problem saying, it’s the biggest trophy I have won. Am I any prouder of that one than I am with all the other ones I have won? No. I proud of all the trophies I have won. The United fan’s don’t count the Championship or Challenge Cup wins, so the club has only won 5 top flight trophies (2 league cups, 2 Scottish Cups and a League), despite a Champions League semi-final and a UEFA Final. I’m part of one of only 5 trophies for the club, so it does rank as number one for me. It means more to more people.