CALLUM TAPPING is fed up hearing Hearts described as a team of kids, but he knows the only way they will be taken seriously as full-time footballers is by making a decent fist of keeping the club in the Scottish Premiership.
While administration-hit Hearts have had to operate with the youngest squad in the league as they battle to stay afloat in the top flight, 20-year-old Tapping is eager to dispel the perception that he and his team-mates are all just a bunch of wee boys.
As well as Tapping, fellow Academy graduates like Jamie Walker, Jason Holt, Kevin McHattie, David Smith, Brad McKay, Dylan McGowan and Scott Robinson are all now into their 20s. The only teenagers who have featured regularly are Jordan McGhee, Callum Paterson and Billy King.
Tapping argues that, despite their youthfulness in relation to other teams, the bulk of the Hearts squad are now at an age when they should be expected to be playing regular first-team football anyway and that, in turning out week in, week out for Hearts, they are not really doing anything out of the ordinary. “At the age of 20 or 21 we’re getting to that stage where we need to start playing, and if we’re playing we need to prove to everyone else that we’re not just kids,” said the midfielder. “I don’t think as players we overly relied on the older players, but I think a lot of people around us thought about us as young boys.
“But I think we need to prove to everyone else that we’re not just young boys any more, we’ve played a lot of games between us and we need to step up to the plate.
“We want to be judged as footballers that are playing in the first team, not just kids that are playing in the first team.
“I think we’re starting to prove to people that we can do that – and if that carries on then we can do well. It’s got to the stage now where everyone’s playing their part.
“After the first few weeks we all realised ‘we have to play our part here’, it’s not just three or four players.
“We needed everyone to step up to the challenge.”
Hearts head to second-bottom Kilmarnock today, 13 points adrift at the foot of the table after taking just one point from their last six games. The prospect of falling 16 points behind by close of play today fills Hearts supporters with dread, but Tapping is adamant the players will not buckle under the strain.
“Nobody is under pressure, but we all know the position we’re in and that we have to start winning games,” he said. “We don’t feel under pressure but to get the points is a must and all the boys are looking forward to it as a challenge.
“I think it would be a psychological blow to fall 16 points behind but it’s our profession to get on with that. It’s the kind of thing you work for, not only on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. A lot of players could let their heads go down after one defeat, but the gaffer’s on to us all the time to keep our heads up and keep the confidence high.
“Every Saturday is another game and if you lose then you look to the next Saturday to try and put things right. The confidence is not something to worry about with us. There’s a good atmosphere in the camp and everyone’s coping well.”
Tapping admits this season has provided Hearts’ homegrown products with the toughest first-team baptism they could have imagined, but he believes that being part of the battle to overcome a 15-point penalty with a threadbare squad will help strengthen the character of himself and his team-mates as they bid to carve a long-term career in the game.
“Obviously the situation we’re in is not great,” he acknowledged. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that everyone has accepted or they wouldn’t be here. And the boys that are here are looking forward to it, even though it’s not nice.
“It does take a certain mentality to keep taking the setbacks we’ve been having and it’s a learning experience as well.
“At the moment, we’re just looking forward to Saturday and if we lose on Saturday we can’t wait for the next Saturday. Especially with us being younger, all the boys are flying and want to do well every week.
“When we come out the other side what we’re going through just now is going to be a positive. If we come out the other side and we’ve done well then we’re going to be buzzing. It can only get better, so it’s good in a way.”