Craig Conway: St Johnstone winger on cup finals, a future in fashion & unconventional owners

By Martin WattBBC Scotland
Conway's strike completed the 3-0 win over Hibs and helped send St Johnstone through to Sunday's League Cup final
Craig Conway's strike completed the 3-0 win over Hibs and helped send St Johnstone through to Sunday's League Cup final
Scottish League Cup: Livingston v St Johnstone
Venue: Hampden Date: Sunday, 28 February Kick-off: 14:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app

Craig Conway is optimistic he still has another season or two left in him at the top level. If not, life after football holds no fears for the St Johnstone winger.

Having tried his hand as a hairdresser, painter and decorator, window cleaner and shop worker among other jobs in his younger days, the 35-year-old is nothing if not adaptable.

Now, partly inspired by the dodgy gear sported by some team-mates over the years, Conway is set to launch a clothing line. And lockdown has afforded him the chance to sharpen his skills honed in the family hairdressing hairdressing business.

"That's something that has served me well over the years," he says. "I used to cut a few of the lads' hair at Blackburn and a couple at Cardiff.

"When I was part-time at Ayr United, I started working with my dad during the day. When I went full-time, I tailed it off to a couple of days. It's just something my dad embedded in me - you have to work. I enjoyed it, so I've kept that going."

Walking off into the sunset at the end of the season with the Scottish League Cup tucked under his arm wouldn't be a bad way to go for the former Scotland international, whose side face Livingston in Sunday's final at Hampden.

"I don't feel as if my legs are going or I'm not fit enough - far from it," Conway adds. "I want to keep playing, but sometimes that's taken out of your hands.

"I've got a lot of other things going on if I don't decide to carry on. I don't feel I want to go into coaching but the agency side of football appeals to me.

"The clothing brand will be launching in the next couple of months. Me and one of my mates are involved in it. It's sports-casual wear, just the stuff most footballers would wear day to day. I've seen a lot of dodgy outfits over the years."

You won't catch Conway pickup up a paintbrush any time soon, though.

"I hated every minute of painting and decorating. I started an apprenticeship and lasted about two weeks. I was painting a railing, but ended up painting a floor."

Vincent Tan's rituals & Bellamy obsession

Having proved he could cut it in the full-time ranks, Conway's impactful wing play for Dundee United brought international recognition and a move to Cardiff City, where he quickly realised his standards weren't up to scratch.

"I was very inconsistent because I was nowhere near the shape I should have been. I learned a lot, what it takes to step up to that level with the fitness and diet - I was miles off it."

The following season Conway's dedication to self-improvement paid off, scoring the title-clinching goal against Burnley to send Cardiff to the Premier League.

That success partly vindicated the methods of Cardiff's unconventional Malaysian owner Vincent Tan. But the St Johnstone dressing room on Sunday will have to go some to match the antics Conway became accustomed to under Tan.

"He was a real character," Conway says. "The season we got promoted, he pretty much flew to every home game from Malaysia. He would come down to the dressing room and do this ritual where he would place little coins at the corner of the pitch, do a ceremony in the middle with a dragon thing, and the lads were like: 'Who is this guy?

"He would come round every player, but he was obsessed with Craig Bellamy. One day, Bellamy was in the toilet and Vincent came in with his entourage. He blanked the rest of us and went looking for Bellamy. When he came out the cubicle Vincent shook his hand and gave him high fives."

Having helped get Cardiff there, Conway speaks with a hint of regret at not getting the chance to play in the English top flight. After a flurry of new signings he sensed his opportunities would be scarce, and a loan stint at Brighton was followed by a permanent move to Blackburn Rovers.

If the relationship between supporters and owner at Cardiff was strained, Blackburn was a whole new level with Venky's, an Indian poultry conglomerate, ruling the roost.

"There were chickens getting thrown on the pitch, people outside the stadium protesting, all sorts," says Conway. "I remember a game where the fans brought whistles to the game and it was the most confusing thing ever. Everyone was blowing whistles and you didn't know which one was the referee's."

'I changed my mind during the run-up'

Conway was man of the match as Dundee United won the Scottish Cup in 2010
Conway was man of the match as Dundee United won the Scottish Cup in 2010

Conway is now striving to crown his first season back in Scotland with silverware after nine years in English football.

He has experienced both the elation and torment of cup finals. He won the Scottish Cup with United in 2010, scoring twice in a man-of-the-match display against Ross County, after learning an agonising lesson two years previously.

On that occasion, the League Cup final, Conway was a second-half substitute and missed in the shootout as Rangers prevailed on penalties over United after a 2-2 draw.

"That's the last time in my career I changed my mind when hitting a penalty," he recalls.

"I remember running up and was going to go to the keeper's right, then at the last minute decided to go to his left. I struck it really well, but hit the post. That's the hardest thing to take - when you know you've made a mistake.

"The next final, against County, we were favourites and that brings its own pressure but we handled it very well. To go 3-0 up, there was no chance for Ross County to come back. I just remember enjoying that and soaking up the atmosphere. An amazing day."

As a regular starter this season, and having capped St Johnstone's semi-final win over Hibernian with the last goal in a 3-0 victory, Conway would be within his rights to assume he has inked his name in Callum Davidson's XI.

But he is taking nothing for granted after being kept on the bench when Cardiff took Liverpool all the way to penalties before succumbing to defeat in the 2012 English League Cup final.

"I look back and that's one of the hardest things to take," he says. "I played every round, got man of the match for the semi-final and thought I was a stick-on. I was absolutely gutted that day.

"That taught me nobody is guaranteed a place. The manager here has been pretty consistent with his rotation even when we get a result. Only he knows what his team is going to be on Sunday."

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