Times might be tough for everyone at Hearts just now, but you won’t catch Dylan McGowan complaining about his lot.
Suffering defeat on a regular basis is hurting the big Australian as much as anyone at Tynecastle. But, while many supporters have become demoralised by Hearts’ plight, the 22-year-old has a healthy sense of perspective on being part of the club’s formidable battle to try and stay in the Scottish Premiership.
“It’s really easy to keep our spirits up,” said McGowan. “We’ve got the best job in the world. People may think it’s all doom and gloom but to come in and kick a ball around for a few hours isn’t the hardest thing in the world. We all realise how lucky we are to be getting regular Scottish Premiership football at this age.
“Everyone is enjoying it and the spirit in the camp is still really high. It’s just a case of enjoying your football. You can focus on the negatives if you want: we are in administration, things are tough, we are losing players to injury. But at the end of the day we are football players and there are guys on building sites working really hard. I’ve got friends who are tradesmen, my dad is a tradesman and it’s been drummed into me from a very young age that I’m the lucky one.
“I have a very lucky job, I basically play a hobby for a living. That’s what my dad says. It’s always been instilled in me that this isn’t hard work, so I’ve got a good outlook on life.”
McGowan, a Hearts academy graduate, has made only 25 first-team appearances for the club, but, with Ryan Stevenson out injured, the Adelaide-born centre-back will be cast as the second-oldest outfield player in the side for today’s visit of second-place Inverness.
“I’ve been one of the older heads all season,” he said. “I came into the team last season as a young guy and six months later I’m one of the experienced guys. It’s been a learning curve for myself, getting extra responsibility in the changing room and out on the field. It can only benefit me.
“The young boys are playing first-team football earlier than expected and the slightly older ones are picking up knowledge of playing in more experienced roles at an earlier age. As long as we are enjoying it and giving 100 per cent I’m sure we can turn it around.”
While McGowan won’t allow himself to become beleaguered by the situation, he is, understandably, affronted at being part of a defence which has leaked 11 goals in two games, against Celtic and Dundee United. Hearts management have been drilling the defence relentlessly in training in a bid to shore things up, and the centre-back knows they can ill-afford any more slackness when Caley Thistle bring the hottest striker in the country, Billy McKay, to Tynecastle today.
“As a defender you take everything personally,” he said. “Every shot the opposition get on target is personal to us at the moment. We do our best but as a team we know we need to defend better. The back four take the majority of the blame, as they should.
“But we have a great goalkeeper so we have been quite lucky in that regard. There is room for improvement. We aim to put things right against Inverness and it’s something we have been focusing on.
“Billy Brown and the gaffer have been critical of it and they’ve worked hard with us to put things right this weekend. When we have defended well then we have kept clean sheets, that’s the frustrating thing.
“If we could do that more often then we wouldn’t be in the position we are in. We need to work hard and get everyone working from the same page.”
McGowan believes individual mistakes have been the biggest hindrance to Hearts this season. “Sometimes this season it has been individual errors, that’s what comes from having a young side with players who are nervous,” he explained.
“They understand the predicament the club is in and every loss to the club is like the end of the world. The young boys who come in are under pressure and mistakes happen.”
While there is a sense of gloom around Hearts following recent results, McGowan feels their predicament is not as desperate as is being portrayed and has no doubt that they can still preserve their top-flight status.
“A string of results is all we need,” he said. “We’ve picked up four points from the last nine in the league and if we can build on that this weekend then December’s not been a bad month. Obviously the Celtic game was in the Scottish Cup and it’s one to forget. But the league’s always been our main focus.
“If you can pick up seven points a month then it will be a good achievement and we will be heading in the right direction. I don’t think the teams around us will be picking up those kind of points. So of course it can still be done.”
Today provides an opportunity to finally reach the zero-point milestone, which was always Hearts’ first target this season. To wipe out their noose-like 15-point deficit before Christmas would be some feat for a side many expected to be totally out of its depth in the top flight.
“We are trying to get there as quickly as possible and if we could get there this weekend then it would give us a huge psychological boost,” he said. “It would give us a huge lift going into the busy festive period we have coming up.”