St Johnstone legend Liam Craig set to bring curtain down on playing career but coaching role awaits

Liam Craig is set to bring the curtain down on a memorable playing career that has forever banked him legendary status at St Johnstone.

But the Perth club’s all-time appearance record holder, a firm fans’ favourite, will be sticking around for a coaching role next season.

Craig has more than 450 Saints appearances to his name and came off the bench in the final minutes of Wednesday night’s confidence-boosting 1-0 McDiarmid Park win against Aberdeen.

“That’s 19 years as a full-time footballer and I have always said that if the right opportunity came along to step into coaching I’d think seriously about it,” said Craig.

“I was never worried about retiring and this just feels right.

“People say you should play for as long as you can and I definitely get that.

“But back in January there were a couple of opportunities to move on. I had good conversations with the manager and the chairman, Steve Brown.

“They made it clear I wasn’t going to play much football between then and the end of the season. But they didn’t want me to leave.

“There wasn’t going to be a playing contract going into next season so there was a decision to be made if I did decide to retire from playing.

“Given the affiliation I have with the club, the board and the fans this is where I want to be.

“I am in a fantastic environment to learn and develop so it’s great the manager and the board wanted me to stay.”

Craig will take on the role of first team analyst and development coach but may well add another Premiership appearance to his tally on Sunday afternoon against Hibs.

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He said: “Speaking to Steven MacLean, who is a bit older than me, he has already made that transition.

“He is great to talk things over with. Alex Cleland and Paul Mathers have been the same with me.

“But I still have a couple of weeks left as a player. That is still my main focus.

“I am enjoying training every day and while Wednesday against Aberdeen was potentially my last appearance at McDiarmid I can look back on 452 games and some incredible memories.

“I don’t know if the manager will want me to play a part against Hibs with the two huge play-off games coming up.

“But I am ready if called upon, whether it is 90 minutes, half an hour or another late cameo.”

If Craig does get the nod at any point, you can guarantee he will be taking control of free-kick and penalty situations.

He said: “I am one goal away from catching Macca as the club’s leading scorer in the top division on 47 goals.

“So if we get a late penalty and I’m on the pitch I’ll be looking for the ball!

“But the most important thing is to make sure the core of the squad is ready for the two games coming up. They are huge for the club.

“Like everyone else here I want to make sure we are still a Premiership club next season.

“It is in our own hands now and we have to make sure we do it.”

Craig, of course, has Perth playing memories to last a lifetime and finally getting his hands on cup silverware last season was dream come true stuff.

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The emotion was certainly clear to see when his lone figure crouched down on the Hampden turf after the League Cup win over Livingston.

“After the highs of last season this year has been tough,” Craig said. “It has been disappointing.

“But over the 12 years as a player here there have been so many highlights.

“I have won three trophies, the old First Division under Derek McInnes and the two cups last season.

“Winning the League Cup at 34 was special. I had never won a cup, never even won any of the semi-finals I was involved in.

“That was the most emotional one for me. I finally had a major trophy to show for my career.

“The Scottish Cup was just incredible, having missed out on the previous one when I was at Hibs.

“It’s just a shame we weren’t able to celebrate that success with the fans, and various players have moved on.

“I have probably enjoyed the last couple of years more than ever and not just because we won the two trophies last season.

“You appreciate it more as you get older and as the years speed by.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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