GERRY MCCABE reckons Kilmarnock can win silverware in 2019 – as long as they can cope with the loss of Greg Stewart.
The 62-year-old was Bobby Williamson’s assistant when the Ayrshire club won the Scottish Cup in 1997.
In his current role as a Millwall scout, McCabe has been a regular at Killie games this season and several players have caught his eye.
Jordan Jones’ form has seen him win a move to Rangers.
While as things stand, Jones’ move is a pre-contract deal and he won’t be in the home dressing-room at Ibrox until the summer, Stewart – who hit eight goals in 16 games – departed back to his parent club, Birmingham City.
Bad enough. Worse still, now that he has returned north to join Killie’s fellow Old Firm challengers, Aberdeen, on loan.
That has left Steve Clarke’s side with a big void to fill as they try to build on a fantastic 2018 under their manager.
Having coached Stewart at Dundee three years ago, McCabe, along with Paul Hartley, helped develop the player into a top striker with the ability to score goals and provide important assists.
The Ayrshire side are desperate to get him back but it looks unlikely.
McCabe hopes Killie can thrive without Stewart and that will put extra pressure on Jordan Jones, Chris Burke, Kris Boyd and Eamonn Brophy to deliver the goods.
McCabe said: “Greg Stewart was different class for Kilmarnock for the past four or five months. I hope he gets capped for Scotland. He certainly deserves it.
“He was an integral part of the way Kilmarnock functioned as a team.
“He was able to create a spark, an opening for his team-mates, with his skill and willingness to dribble. He also scored important goals.
“But his successful spell has been costly to Kilmarnock as they have lost him on the back of it.
“When we lost him at Dundee, we just couldn’t replace him. Guys such as Greg don’t come around too often.
“I hope Kilmarnock get him back, but I’m not sure how likely that will be.
“It’s now up to the others to take on more responsibility, but there is the team spirit and the ability in the squad to do so.
“Jordan Jones has always caught my eye and he can do it – go up another notch for the team.
“Steve Clarke has the team playing a structured game, but they also entertain.
“The quality of some of their football has been as good as anything else in the league.
“It’s no wonder they had a successful 2018, and they would have won the Premiership title had it been based on a calendar year.
“They need to kick on from that, and I think they can stay the distance.
“I’m not saying they will win it because I’m certain the title race will be between Celtic and Rangers.
“But Killie can finish best of the rest. I fancy them to definitely be in the top four come the end of the season.
“They obviously face a huge test on Wednesday night at home to Rangers. But they can cope with that challenge.
”There will be a full house and it’s great to see the town of Kilmarnock absolutely buzzing again.
“When I was on the coaching staff 20 years ago, we had crowds of around 8,500. It dropped last year to around 3,500 yet now it’s up to around 7,000 on average.
“Credit has to go to the board of directors, Steve and his staff, and the players.”
Clarke has been satisfied with his 15 months in the job, but wants to see the club getting to a cup final.
In the past 50 years, they’ve only lifted the League Cup in 2012 and the Scottish in 1997. So they are due something more to add to the trophy cabinet and it would be fitting if it happened in this, their 150th year in existence.
McCabe said: “Winning the Scottish Cup in the Final against Falkirk at Ibrox (below, inset) brings back great memories for me. It was one of the best days of my life.
“When Bobby Williamson took over as manager in 1996, the club was fighting relegation. But we stayed up, and Gary Holt scored a vital goal against Aberdeen in a league game. We then won the Cup weeks later. It was very special.
“We had a solid side, from Paul Wright and Jim McIntyre up front to Kevin McGowne and Dylan Kerr at the back.
“Mark Reilly was brilliant in the middle of the park. We also had the two youngsters, David Bagan and Alex Burke, on either wing and they just lit it all up.
“They played with no fear and really entertained. It was a joy to coach the pair of them.
“They just loved football and taking on opponents, whether it was down the wing or coming inside.
“I hope the current management and squad of players can sample some silverware at Hampden.
“I think they have a chance because they are consistent and effective. Every player knows his job and the manager is first-class.
“All the ingredients are there to do it.”