SIMON DONNELLY signed for Celtic during the ill-fated reign of Liam Brady, but it was Lou Macari who gave him his first-team break.

In the 1993-94 season, the Celtic reserve side was taking part in some shooting practice at the end of a training session at Barrowfield.

Donnelly performed a once-in-a-lifetime feat right in front of the manager when he despatched back-to-back efforts into the top corner.

"Liam Brady signed me in 1993 but I played in the under-18s and the reserves," Donnelly recalls. "It was not until Lou came to the club that I made my first-team debut though.

"He came to watch the reserves in training one day. I'll never forget it - the goal was up beside the supporters club and I was just a young kid but I was aware that the manager was looking at what we were doing.

"Lou said to me 'can you put that in the top corner?' so I had a strike at goal and it's flown into the top bin. He then turned to me and said 'can you do it again?' Imagine the pressure as the manager of Celtic Football Club is watching you shoot at goal. But I did it again.

"I don't know how I managed it as before he came the balls were bouncing up and off the wall and shots were going all over the place. I don't think I've managed it since either!

"A few days later Lou handed me my debut. I was 19 when I came off the bench against Hibs at Easter Road. The newspapers wanted to do a feature on me in the lead-up to the game. It was all new to me, all very surreal."

Things got even more dreamlike when Macari compared the fledgling forward to Kenny Dalglish.

Donnelly was flattered by the comparison and, despite modelling his own game roughly on his childhood hero, he insists that it never had any bearing or effect on his own Celtic career.

The moniker never really stuck anyway. Well, only in the Celtic dressing room for Mickey-taking purposes.

Donnelly said: "Lou did compare me to Dalglish but it never really affected me. King Kenny was my idol - my dad took me to Scotland matches and I was a big Liverpool fan because of Dalglish. I liked the way he played football and I liked his style.

"When Lou mentioned that it made the headlines in the paper and the toughest I found it was inside the four walls of the dressing room.

READ MORE: 'Toxic' Celtic dressing room, the 'Super Caley' game and how Paradise was lost - John Barnes Big Interview

"My team-mates and my friends pulled my leg mercilessly about it. 'The new Dalglish' was bandied about all the time. People said it was harsh of Lou to do that but I think everything that consumed me at the time was about how I could stay in the Celtic first-team, having made the breakthrough and become an established member of the squad.

"The King Kenny things did not put any unnecessary pressure on me when I was performing."

Donnelly bagged five goals in 10 appearances and even admirably stood up to Richard Gough during his Old Firm derby debut at Ibrox. The Celtic fans were locked out for that match, largely due to a board-level disagreement, although several members of the young forward's family managed to infiltrate the main stand in Govan to watch him.

He also grabbed two goals in a feisty affair against Manchester United in Mark Hughes's Testimonial.

"My first game against Rangers was the 1-1 match when the Celtic fans were all locked out at Ibrox and I played well against Richard Gough," Donnelly said. "I had scored against Raith Rovers and I had scored against Dundee and they were midweek matches that kind of went unnoticed. I can't even find those goals to show my boys!

"However, the Rangers game was the first one that people actually sat up and took notice of me. The first real images of me in a Celtic jersey were from that game - I played reasonably well and it was a great experience.

"We should have won as John Collins gave us the lead with a free-kick but Alexei Mikhailichenko equalised for Rangers with a deflection late on.

"Rangers had a strong team and we were written off but we almost came out of Ibrox with a famous win. My dad, grandpa, sister and cousin were all at that game.

"My family are from Auchinleck in Cumnock which is a real Rangers stranglehold. My grandpa's pal gave up his season books that day as he wanted my family to go along and watch me in action.

"They were all sitting in the main stand and they just had to sit on their hands and make sure they didn't jump up. It is mental the stories you hear regarding this fixture and my family were involved in one of them.

"That was a significant game as it gave me confidence that the manager had belief in me that I could go and play on such a big occasion.

"I then scored two goals against Manchester United at Old Trafford. It was amazing as those kinds of games were never really classed as friendlies and Celtic certainly never regarded them as such.

READ MORE: Former Celtic midfielder Peter Grant - I still talk to Tommy Burns every day, he is always there for me

"We took a massive crowd down. I loved that Manchester United team as Eric Cantona was in the side. Playing at Old Trafford was magic and at that point and all the good things were just happening for me.

"I stupidly thought 'this is easy, what's next?'"

It was anything but easy as Donnelly discovered the following campaign as Celtic rented out the national stadium during season 1994-95.

A horrendous loss in the League Cup final on penalties to Raith duly followed in November but the seventh Scottish Premier Division title of nine was conceded to Rangers with the Hoops limping home in fourth.

Although they did end their six-year trophy drought with a triumph over Airdrieonians in the Scottish Cup final courtesy of Pierre Van Hooijdonk's headed goal, Donnelly admitted that it was a dreadful first full campaign.

He said: "I was quickly brought down to earth with a thud. I suffered the 'second-season syndrome' after breaking into the first team.

"Experienced players got to know how I played and I sustained a couple of injuries. It was a terrible campaign. That affected me more than anything Lou Macari said about my ability.

"I was also involved in the Raith Rovers League Cup final loss at Ibrox when Paul McStay missed the penalty. 

"Looking back on that game, it was the experienced players who suffered more. You felt it for the likes of Paul and Peter Grant, who had been at the club the whole time and had been part of successful Celtic sides in the 1980s.

"Celtic were expected to win that final comfortably but it was symptomatic of the time - if ever the team were going to lose a final it was that one to Raith Rovers. The captain missed the penalty and it was no silverware since 1989. It was just a catalogue of lows for Celtic.

"I had the daftness of youth that I always felt there would be another final occasion round the corner - and it turned out to be the case in 1995.

"To go six years without a trophy is unbelievable for a club like Celtic, so when Pierre scored the winner in the 1995 Scottish Cup final it was just sheer relief.

"My overriding memory of that cup final is looking at Paul and Peter, as well as Tommy Burns and Billy Stark, and all of them just hugging each other and crying because Celtic had a winning team again.

Celtic Way: The Celtic players celebrate winning the Scottish Cup in 1995The Celtic players celebrate winning the Scottish Cup in 1995

"I was trying to take it all in and I was new to this but Paul and Peter had experienced six years of misery. Paul had to carry that burden of missing the penalty against Raith and then a few months later lifted the Scottish Cup as the Celtic captain.

"I never won another Scottish Cup with Celtic after that so maybe that's why it is such a vivid memory that sticks in my head. I cherish the fact that I won a Scottish Cup with Celtic."

Tommy Burns had long since replaced Macari at the helm and he assembled a side capable of challenging Rangers at the top of the table.

The 1995-96 season will go down in history as the Scottish Premier League title that got away. Under Burns, the Hoops played a brand of swashbuckling, attacking football that won plaudits and admirers... but sadly no trophies came with it.

Despite embarking on a league campaign that saw them lose just one match all season - to a Paul Gascoigne-inspired Rangers at Celtic Park - Donnelly and company were pipped to the league flag by four points.

Donnelly said: "I go out of my way to state that the number of fans that come up to me and talk about the 1995-96 season is incredible. This was a Celtic team that was moulded in the image of the manager. It was a testament to him.

"If Celtic had been a team that was grinding out 1-0 wins then we would have been forgotten about. It was the style of play and the supporters that watched it just adored it. It was the ultimate compliment to Tommy.

"The frustration was that we were up against arguably the strongest Rangers team of all time. To go through a whole season and lose just once but not win the league title is a rarity.

"But football is an entertainment business and Tommy's team certainly entertained.

"I loved playing in that team. At times we were going out with confidence and a swagger that we were going to score three or four goals. It was a great season and the real sadness of it all was that we did not win the title for Tommy.

"My beliefs in football are engrained in my mind because of him. When I went into coaching with Jackie McNamara that was the way we wanted our teams to play - the Tommy Burns way.

"He had a way with people and what he did for my career is immeasurable. Brady signed me and Macari played me but I never had any kind of relationship with either. Tommy was the first one that I had that relationship with.

READ MORE: Tommy Burn's Celtic VHS Tapes, the overlooked Andy Thom and the Three Amigos - Pierre van Hooijdonk Big Interview

"Tommy had walked in many of the player's shoes as he came through the youth ranks at the club. Everybody who came through would receive help and advice from him. He was just a great guy, nobody has a bad word to say about him. That says it all about the kind of person he was really, doesn't it?

"It was him who decided to play me deeper and not as the main striker. He felt playing me on the right would take the emphasis and focus away from me upfront. Jackie came in and we clicked down the right-hand side immediately.

"Tommy had seen something in my game that he felt could be utilised better. It gave me more strings to my bow and it gave me a new lease of life and confidence - it was beneficial to my career. If he hadn't identified that in my game, who knows what might have happened?"

The following season, in 1996-97, Donnelly was a member of another wonderful Celtic side that Burns built with the 'Three Amigos' of Van Hooijdonk, Paolo Di Canio, and Jorge Cadete leading the title charge.

Once again Celtic would come up just short and lose the crown by five points as Walter Smith's Rangers secured the coveted nine-in-a-row to equal the legendary Jock Stein's feat.

Donnelly said: "When that team clicked it was brilliant and a joy to play in. When you surround yourself with such good talent it lifts your own game and levels. That was what Tommy always believed.

"We were up against a cracking Rangers team but when Tommy brought in Di Canio and Cadete, with Pierre and Andy Thom already there, it just lifted everybody's level.

"Cadete was a goal machine. He made great runs and it made your job easier trying to slide him in.

"Van Hooijdonk was a clever, clever footballer. He had a huge influence on me the way he went about his business in training. I learned so much from Pierre.

"Andy had explosiveness while Di Canio had an unbelievable bag of tricks and his ability was never in question. He trained like every session was the World Cup final.

"These guys drove us on that season as their levels were incredible to the point that the players did not want to lose their position in the team. Celtic were getting closer to Rangers and we all felt that."

READ MORE: Tosh McKinlay on Celtic under Tommy Burns, The Three Amigos and stopping the 10 - The Big Interview

When the Burns era came to an end, it was left to Dutchman Wim Jansen to carve an indelible mark on Celtic's history as the club tried to stop Rangers from achieving the unthinkable in 1997-98 - a 10th straight title.

Jansen made arguably Celtic's best ever signing when he brought Henrik Larsson to the club for the princely sum of £650,000.

An inauspicious start to that season saw Celtic lose to both Hibernian and Dunfermline in their opening two games. Jansen, Donnelly and company appeared to be behind the eight ball from the off.

Donnelly, though, started to feature prominently and bagged the winner against St Johnstone in a fiercely-contested League Cup third-round tie at McDiarmid Park. He also got his name on the scoresheet during a pulsating 'Battle of Britain' UEFA Cup first-round clash with Liverpool which saw Celtic earn a 2-2 draw at home and a 0-0 draw at Anfield only to agonisingly bow out on away goals.

Then the League Cup was duly captured with a one-sided 3-0 win over Dundee United at Ibrox in October. Momentum was building.

However, the biggest sign of the pendulum of power shifting back to Glasgow's east end came in the Old Firm match on January 2 1998. Craig Burley and Paul Lambert bagged the goals as Celtic defeated Rangers 2-0 to move within a point of their rivals at the summit.

Donnelly said: "The Liverpool games were a big turning point in the season for us. I felt after those matches that we had a real chance to win the title.

"The New Year game against Rangers is when it really mattered for Celtic. If we lost we would have gone seven points behind them and that would have been massive. It might have been out of our reach. These are the wee things that you forget about.

"If you can pinpoint one game throughout that season then it would be that game against Rangers. I can still see Paul bursting the net with his half-volley. I would swap that one goal with Paul for 10 of mine.

"If I was going through it all again I would probably get more worked up about it. I was still relatively young at the time, in my mid-20s, and maybe that helped me deal with things a bit better."

Donnelly was cruelly denied a place in Celtic's history books. Jansen's side travelled to East End Park to face Dunfermline on the penultimate day of the season knowing a win would seal the crown and end Rangers' 10-in-a-row bid.

A 35th-minute Donnelly strike looked to have won the contest for the visitors but the fates intervened and, with seven minutes left on the clock, a looping header by Craig Faulconbridge handed the Pars an unexpected draw.

Celtic Way:

It gives Donnelly cause to curse Faulconbridge's name forever and the Celtic management, players and supporters had to endure another seven days of torture.

"The worst feeling in that season was immediately after the Dunfermline game," Donnelly said. "We would have played St Johnstone [the next and final game] right there and then.

"We had to wait for a week and it was seven days of absolute torture. That Craig Faulconbridge header will live with me forever.

"It is a horrible goal and I think Gouldy (Jonathan Gould) misjudged it. It affected me on a personal level because when I am at dinners now people always ask his name. How can you forget something like that? It is a moment when time stood still.

"To have scored the goal that would have won the league for Celtic would have been a proud moment for my family but it was not to be."

The fairytale ending was completed though - the following weekend against St Johnstone as Henrik Larsson and Harald Brattbakk grabbed the glory as well as the goals to ensure Jansen's men clinched the title inside Paradise on a nerve-shredding day for all connected with the club.

It was the mother of all title wins amid a relentless 10 months of unbearable pressure.

"Thankfully the Dunfermline game did not delay the inevitable," Donnelly said. "When Henrik scored early against St Johnstone we all felt that we would go on and win the game comfortably.

"We didn't and, as the game went on and the tension in the crowd was palpable, the team could visibly see the colour draining from supporters' faces as they were so on edge.

READ MORE: Celtic's Tommy Burns title, beating AC Milan and 'weird conversations' with Tony Mowbray - Scott McDonald Big Interview

"I was substituted for Harald Brattbakk and it was outwith my control. I just became like every other fan. I was aware that Rangers had the result they needed and at 1-0 everything was on a knife-edge. We knew we had to win the game.

"When Harald scored the second goal it was just bedlam. I still get goosebumps whenever I see Harald's goal.

"The scenes at Celtic Park were befitting of winning the title in such a dramatic fashion. When you look at the history of Celtic, and I shudder when I think of this question, what would have happened if we hadn't stopped 10-in-a-row?

"The Lisbon Lions and nine-in-a-row have never been beaten up until this day. That's why winning that title was massively important to Celtic. The enormity of it is still hitting home to this day.

"I have a huge sense of pride that I played my part in that team. It was just so significant. It wasn't just any old Scottish Premier League title win."

Donnelly is too humble to admit it, but that title was arguably Celtic's most significant and important league championship since they swept the boards in 1966-67.

In his football career, Donnelly may never have scaled the peaks Kenny Dalglish did, but he has a title he can certainly wear with honour and pride: he is one of the men who stopped the 10.

For that feat alone Donnelly will be classed as a Celtic great, just like his idol King Kenny.

  • Simon Donnelly will join Martin O'Neill, Chris Sutton, Paul Lambert, Jackie McNamara & Lubo Moravcik at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow on May 29 as part of¬†An Unforgettable Experience 2. Tickets are available here.