One of the best things about Hearts playing in the lower leagues this season, aside from watching them absolutely smash it, is being able to watch them smash it during an international break. Given the domestic misfortune experienced by Hearts in recent seasons, a break from domestic football was probably just the tonic for a lot of supporters. This season, however, the lack of interruption to the Hearts Championship juggernaut has been a welcome bonus.
Considering my first crystal-clear memory of international football is Euro 96, which I followed intensely from start to finish with accompanying Panini sticker book in hand, it saddens me a little to say international football no longer has the same hold over me. This apathy may have a lot to do with the fact that Panini sticker albums are less acceptable when you reach your late 20s. It probably has more to do with the regular let-downs I have experienced along with thousands of other Scotland supporters since 1998.
Despite the recent upturn in Scotland’s fortunes under Wee Gordon, the prestige of international football appears to have dwindled significantly in recent years. Players seem intent on having their cake and eating it, waxing lyrical about the honour of representing their countries at major tournaments, but showing less interest in the legwork that precedes the main event. As club football takes greater priority in players’ minds, international friendlies and the less glamorous qualifiers are regularly peppered with dubious injury call-offs.
I am, of course, a complete hypocrite for commenting on this because it’s an attitude I have had as a supporter in recent years. When Hearts were in the top flight, I saw the international break as an unwelcome gap in the club’s fixture list, the majority of which was spent hoping all representatives came home with a clean bill of health. It was obviously encouraging to see five Hearts players representing their country at U-21 level in the midweek friendly against Hungary, as it recognises their efforts for a fine season. However, with three regular first teamers in that group, it was also a relief to see them return to club duty in one piece.
There has been speculation on Kickback this week as to how the international exertions of Billy King, Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson will affect Robbie’s team selection for the Queen of the South game. Considering Jack Hamilton and Jordan McGhee were the only Hearts players to play the full 90 minutes, it is unlikely the other three will be jaded enough to keep them from participating at Tynecastle today.
Meanwhile, one player that is highly unlikely to appear in Robbie Neilson’s line-up in future is Marley Watkins, after the head coach denied paper speculation linking the club to the Inverness winger, crushing writers who had witty “Marley and Me” headlines in the offing. When talking about his preparations for next season, Robbie mentioned the lack of value for money in the Scottish leagues and his preference to look abroad and down south for new recruits. On that basis, and considering the Watkins story appeared earlier in the season, the re-emergence of this rumour looks to be a simple case of lazy journalism.
Finally, another story the papers blew wildly out of proportion this week was the future of Neilson himself. The head coach was quick to quash any rumours, however, announcing that he fully intends to honour his current three year contract. Like his own management career, his work at Hearts is still very much in the early stages.
A timely boost for supporters, therefore, ahead of this afternoon’s title party.
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on March 28, 2015.