Quadruple training Dublin’ the wins in Ireland
Evening all! It’s been just over two months since the Championship trophy was held aloft at Tynecastle and although there has been other football to watch since then, nothing has been able to fill the Hearts-shaped void in my life since early May.
While there was certainly cautious optimism last summer, there is a greater buzz about this pre-season that I personally haven’t felt as a Hearts supporter since 2006 when Champions League football was on the menu. The club may not be hitting the same heights now, but there is a more sustainable long-term vision in place which has created a feel-good factor just as powerful as those early halcyon Romanov days.
The past week saw the squad travel to Dublin for a gruelling round of quadruple training sessions and the first two fixtures of pre-season against Bohemians and Shelbourne. After seeing his players record subsequent 2–0 and 4–2 wins against their hosts (who are currently in the middle of the domestic Irish season) the head coach was clearly pleased with the early efforts:
“It’s been a fantastic trip…I’ve been really pleased with the games we’ve had and with the training facilities at the hotel. It’s been exactly what we were hoping for. Hopefully we got some fitness out of the trip as well as helping the new guys bed in. It’s difficult for the players at this stage of pre-season but I’m sure over the next few weeks they’ll start to feel the benefits of it. It’s something we’d probably look to do next year.”
While pre-season results should not be over-analysed, the early signs are promising and the momentum from last year looks set to continue into the summer. The players’ fitness levels going into this pre-season will already be higher than they were a year ago and the goals still appear to be coming from different areas of the team, with six different players finding the net in Dublin. The new arrivals also seem to have impressed during their first appearances, with 18-year old development recruit Jahmal Howlett-Mundle being singled out by Robbie for particular praise.
“Jahmal’s done great…He’s physical and strong and he talks well on the pitch. He’s a great kid who works hard and wants to do well. He’ll be in Jack Ross’s [Under-20] squad but he’s got potential. He’s got a chance.”
Speaking of new arrivals, Neilson has stated his wish to add another two players to the current squad, at which point his summer recruitment drive will be complete. One of those players looks almost certain to be Juwon Oshaniwa, with reports emerging earlier this week that the Nigerian international left back had verbally agreed a three-year deal with the club. Those who have seen what Oshaniwa has to offer believe Hearts have pulled off a fantastic piece of business and assuming he does put pen to paper, he will strengthen an area of the team that was looking thin on the ground.
Oshaniwa’s arrival at the club will also provide significant comfort to those supporters in the Kevin McHattie boo-brigade, many of whom were starting to get in an awful tizzy about whether or not a new left-back would ever arrive to dislodge the 21-year old, whose alleged crime is being a relatively inexperienced footballer.
As someone who is not part of said brigade, I find it hard not to feel sorry for McHattie. Granted he is by no means the finished article and has a lot to improve on as he develops, however it is also easy to forget he is still in his early twenties and has faced more testing circumstances in his career so far than most players his age. It is also worth noting that McHattie is now roughly the same age as one of his predecessors, Lee Wallace, was when he became a first team regular. Their career paths at this stage, however, could not be more different.
Prior to Adam Eckersley’s arrival, for example, a 20-year old McHattie had not only spent a full season as the most senior left-back without an experienced role model to learn from, he had done so at a club marred by administration and desperately fighting relegation. That absence of a role model, as well as the lack of competition for his position, will have undoubtedly hindered McHattie’s development at a fairly important stage of his career. Then there was the extended Kenny Miller-induced injury lay-off. Wallace, by contrast, was gradually eased into the first team at a time when the club had more experienced players (Takis Fyssas and Jamie McAllister) for him to learn from.
Assuming Oshaniwa signs this week and becomes Robbie Neilson’s first choice, the hope is that McHattie can learn from his new colleague and make up for lost time as he looks to establish himself as Hearts’ long-term option at left-back.
Meanwhile, in terms of potential departures from the club, news broke on Friday that both Dale Carrick and Scott Gallacher are assessing their options ahead of the new season, with neither guaranteed regular first team football. Both players were horrendously unlucky with injuries during the Championship season, Gallacher having been sidelined only days after opportunity presented itself in the form of Neil Alexander’s opening-day injury at Ibrox.
Jack Hamilton has since emerged as a reliable back-up to Alexander and is almost certainly seen as the long-term solution when the incumbent number one eventually hangs up his gloves. On that basis, it is hardly surprising that Gallacher would rather play elsewhere than sit around as third choice.
Similarly, Carrick’s own injury nightmare could not have been more badly-timed. After a successful scoring streak in the second half of the relegation season and having started the first two competitive games of 2014–15, Carrick looked set to secure a regular place in Robbie Neilson’s line-up. Had it not been for the unfortunate injuries that restricted him to only six first team appearances (and a short-lived loan spell with Raith), Carrick would almost certainly have continued his goal-scoring form in the Championship, which would surely have put him further up the pecking order.
Unfortunately (and through no fault of his own) last season represents an opportunity missed as far as Carrick’s development, and potentially his Hearts career, are concerned. While Neilson has previously stated that Carrick has a future at Hearts, the player himself may feel a move is necessary in order to get frequent game time, in which case a move to a Championship club like Queen of the South or Falkirk might provide an opportunity to make an impact. Of course, this could always be achieved through a loan move. As a fan of Dale Carrick, I hope he takes that route and comes back better for the experience and ready to fight for a place in Robbie’s future plans.
Finally, Hearts have been given a home tie against Arbroath in the first round of the League Cup, which is to be arranged for a midweek slot either side of the St Johnstone game after a rare SPFL cock-up initially had both fixtures double booked for the same weekend. It’s just as well the SPFL has such a flawless reputation and unblemished track record to fall back on.
Anyway, next up on the pre-season fixture list is tomorrow’s trip to face Raith in Kirkcaldy, the first stop of what looks to be a week-long reunion/farewell tour of the Championship. Progress report to follow.
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on July 6, 2015.