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I was a ball boy when Boavista beat all the odds to win trophy Saints can do same; ESMAEL GONCALVES EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: Gavin Berry

Esmael Goncalves looked on as a kid as a team in black and white celebrated a rare trophy success and dreamed one day he would lift silverware himself.

The Portuguese striker was a nine-year-old ball boy with Boavista as they claimed their first and only title triumph in the club's 110-year history.

Now he's hoping to help another side in black and white end a quarter of a century wait to get their hands on a trophy by leading St Mirren to League Cup glory.

Goncalves, 21, has earned cult hero status among the Buddies faithful since arriving on loan from Rio Ave in January.

He became an instant hit when he scored the opener in the semi-final victory over Celtic on his debut.

Now he wants to become a legend in the eyes of the supporters on his return to Hampden when the Saints take on Hearts in the final looking to lift their first trophy since the 1987 Scottish Cup Final triumph.

It will also bring back memories of seeing Boavista win the Portuguese Championship in 2001, only the second time a team outside of Portugal's Big Three - Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Benfica - had won the title.

The second club in Porto was considered a minor player in Portuguese football and the Buddies star said: "I was at Boavista as a youngster and it was there that I first started to dream of winning a cup.

"I was a ball boy when I was young and watched Boavista win the league. That was a great moment for the club and I remember the special feeling.

"Boavista have had some big players - Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Raul Meireles and Jose Bosingwa - but winning their first league title was huge for them.

"A long wait had come to an end and the celebrations were great - and to see them lift the trophy was a special.

"It would be great to sample something like that. It would mean a lot for me to now win the League Cup with St Mirren.

"It would be my first silverware and considering I've only been here a short space of time that would be just unbelievable.

"It would also be brilliant for the fans because I know it's 25 years since the club last won a trophy.

"The supporters have been great with me since I arrived.

"They stop me in the street and ask for a photo and an autograph which is such a special feeling. I love the fans."

Goncalves moved to the Portuguese capital Lisbon after leaving Guinea as a three-year-old with his family in search of a better life.

St Mirren coach Austin MacPhee played a key role in bringing him to Scotland in January.

As well as being one of Danny Lennon's sidekicks, the 33-year-old also runs AM Sports Tours and through his contacts has managed to bring players from overseas to Paisley for Saints to run the rule over.

It was MacPhee's friendship with Scottish coach Ian Cathro - now working with Goncalves' parent club Rio Ave - which helped Saints land their Portuguese frontman and the striker is pleased to have the chance to make it in Scotland.

Bastia showed an interest and Goncalves could have been lining up against French cracks Lyon on the same weekend as the Cup final - but he is loving life in the SPL.

Goncalves said: "I love the English Premiership and watch it all the time.

"People told me the style in Scotland was similar so I wasn't surprised at all about the physical nature of the game.

"The standard is good in Scotland. The players are strong and technically good.

"I had other options to go on loan, both Bastia and Lens wanted me, but Scotland appealed. I didn't know anything about St Mirren before I came but Ian said my style would suit the SPL.

"Of course, every player dreams of going to the Premiership because it's the best league in the world.

"I know players who have done well in Scotland then moved to England and it would be great if I could take the same route.

"But I like Scotland. I'm now in my own apartment not far from the stadium and that helps you feel more settled. It's like a home from home, I even have Sky Sports.

"The only thing that took me by surprise was the weather, I wish someone had warned me but I'm fine with it now. I'm like a real Scotsman.

"The Saints players have really helped me settle in. Steven Thompson and Gary Teale have been brilliant.

"My family are planning to come over for the final so it's going to be a special occasion for me.

"It was the best ever start to my St Mirren career to score against Celtic to get us into a cup final. Everyone was happy for me back in Portugal and the officials at Rio Ave phoned to congratulate me.

"The general manager of Rio Ave is often on the phone to Austin to see how I'm doing. They are taking an interest in my progress - I have two years left on my contract in Portugal - but right now I'm only thinking of St Mirren."


WE'RE GON TO CELEBRATE Buds cult hero Goncalves is hoping to get his hands on his first ever silverware and, below, the Boavista fans celebrate their championship glory
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 10, 2013
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