Honest Billy King admits he didn’t produce his best for Gary Locke two seasons ago because he simply wasn’t ready for the demands of regular first-team football.
The winger was a bit-part player – or “first-choice sub”, as he puts it – for most of the 2013/14 campaign when current Kilmarnock manager Locke was in charge of a Hearts side crippled by administration and fighting a forlorn battle against relegation.
King, then 19, only started to flourish in the closing weeks of Locke’s reign. As he prepares to face Killie in the third round of the League Cup at Rugby Park tonight, the 21-year-old said: “Obviously, I was really young when I was brought through by Gary Locke, as a lot of us were, and it forced us to learn quickly and grow up. We have probably played a lot more games than other young boys in Scotland and that is a positive thing for us and has stood us in good stead.
“But it was extremely difficult and, personally, I didn’t think I was ready. We had no choice though. There wasn’t a lot of players available at the time so I just did my best. I didn’t start an awful lot of games but I came on in most of them and I worked hard and did my best but it was a difficult season.
“There wasn’t a lot of players available. I was first-choice sub so I knew before most games that I was going to play a part and it was just a matter of trying to influence the games, but it was a difficult season and confidence was low sometimes. You just had to keep going.”
Although he found it tough, King is grateful to Locke for keeping faith with him even when he wasn’t fully firing. “I owe him a lot,” said the winger. “He is Hearts through and through and a massive figure. It was a tough time for Lockey as well because he was having to play young, inexperienced players like myself and there were not a lot of players to go with. He gave the club a lot and he has taken a few players in from Hearts to Kilmarnock. They are good mates of mine so it will be nice to see them again, but the most important thing is to try to win the game. The ex-Hearts boys will have points to prove but Jamie MacDonald is probably out [injured] which is good for us because he is a great keeper.”