There was sad news earlier this week of the passing of former Celtic goalkeeper Denis Connaghan.

Denis played for Celtic for 5 years between 1971 and 1976 and played a starring role in some of Celtic’s many successes during those years. He was signed in October 1971 from St Mirren for a fee of £20,000, just within days of Celtic’s disastrous 4-1 League Cup final defeat to Partick Thistle, where Dixie Deans joined him at Parkhead from Motherwell very shortly after as Jock Stein took to reshaping his team following that Hampden disaster.

His first big game for Celtic was on 3 January 1972 in the traditional New Year Old Firm fixture. Jim Brogan was the unlikely hero with a very late goal to win a memorable game by 2-1 and Denis is fondly remembered for dancing with delight at the other end of the Parkhead pitch with Davie Hay. Unfortunately, injury deprived him of playing in the 1972 European Cup semi final matches against Inter Milan which went to penalties, and raises the question of could Denis have been Celtic’s penalty saviour that night, and he was also to miss the 1972 Scottish Cup final win over Hibs.

Denis vied for the Celtic goalkeeper’s jersey with Evan Williams but Stein sprung a surprise in January 1973 by signing another goalkeeper, Ally Hunter, from Kilmarnock. This put Denis further down the pecking order but an injury to Hunter in March 1974 saw him back as Celtic’s number one for the rest of the season. He had a fantastic game against Atletico Madrid in the Vicente Calderon stadium, in the second leg of the ill fated European Cup semi final, a game which many observers believe Celtic could never have won. For 77 minutes Denis and the Celtic defence bravely held out against the odds before two late goals sunk them. Days after that game Denis was in the Celtic team which made history by winning their 9th league title in a row under Jock Stein, by drawing 1-1 with Falkirk at Brockville, although photos of the team celebrating afterwards show very strained faces following the awful experience of facing Atletico.

Perhaps Denis is best remembered for his performance in the 1974 Scottish Cup final against Dundee United. Celtic were leading 2-0 when he made a terrific point blank save from an Andy Gray header and Denis took great pride and satisfaction in that save, and in later years he was absolutely delighted when Gray mentioned it on his radio show and also in his autobiography. In August 1974 Denis was involved in two games for which perhaps Celtic fans will always recall him best for. In the Drybrough Cup tie against Airdrie at Broomfield, he had the misfortune to throw the ball into his own net, a feat that even Jock Stein was said to have laughed at from the Celtic dug out. In the Drybrough Cup final at Hampden, Celtic and Rangers fought out a great 2-2 draw, and when the tie was decided by penalties, Denis was Celtic’s hero by saving two penalties in a 4-2 shoot out win, looking resplendent in his distinctive red Celtic goalkeeper’s jersey

In October 1974 Celtic were eliminated from the European Cup by Olympiakos, which was a hugely disappointing result, and Denis appears to have taken the brunt of the blame for this defeat. Within months, Stein signed yet another keeper, Peter Latchford, and in 1976 played his last game before moving to Morton.

A likeable individual, Denis Connaghan had been a faithful servant to the Celtic, who never once complained of his constant shuttling between the first team and reserves.

In later years I had the privilege of interviewing Denis at his home in Neilston see link for full interview

He was immensely proud when discussing his entire football career, not only at his boyhood idols, Celtic, but the thing I remember most was it was Christmas time and he happily showed me the Christmas cards he had received from the Hood family, the McNeill family, and the Brogan family. He regarded Harry, Billy and Jim, not only as old team mates but old friends, and the fact that they were still in contact clearly meant a lot to him.

The thoughts and prayers of all Celtic fans will be with the Connaghan family at this time. May he rest in peace.