JAMIE HAMILL learned his mentoring skills from Gary Locke and now finds himself practising what was preached to him during his formative years at Kilmarnock. Possibly the youngest Hearts team in history relies heavily on a smattering of experience as the club attempts to avoid relegation with a clutch of youth academy graduates. Hamill is a key protagonist.
Despite being only 27, he enjoys his role as one of the elder statesmen in the Riccarton dressing room and is playing in a different position to help guide younger players along. Locke, the Hearts manager, is employing Hamill as a midfield anchor to protect youngsters like Jason Holt and Scott Robinson.
So far, the ploy has been effective. Hamill has been a driving force in midfield and helped fresh faces alongside him learn the ropes of the cut-throat Scottish Premiership. “I do feel like an old man,” he laughed ahead of today’s meeting with St Mirren. “It’s good to be floating about with the young boys and the banter’s good. That’s really important given the situation we’re in at the moment.
“I enjoy just getting in and about people, in addition to helping younger boys through the game. I had that as a young guy coming through the ranks at Kilmarnock and it was of great benefit to me. It’s good to play with the kids but you need that experience. I see a big difference from when they came in for pre-season training. Every one of them has come on leaps and bounds.
“I had the gaffer here when I was coming through at Kilmarnock, along with guys like Garry Hay, Danny Invincibile and James Fowler. I was still young at the time, travelling in with them and it brought me along.”
Indeed, Locke’s guidance and influence helped shape Hamill into the player Hearts lured to Tynecastle two years ago. It also offered an indication that the former could become a leader himself once day. “He was good at the time, passing on different bits of wisdom,” continued Hamill. “He’s brought that to the Hearts dressing room, which is why everyone’s pulling in the same direction.
“You can see in people if they’ve got it in their make-up to go on and do well as a manager and he certainly fitted into that category. He’s handled everything that’s been thrown at him in a difficult situation. Hopefully we can repay him at the end of the season.”
St Mirren’s arrival in Gorgie is certain to provide a powderkeg encounter given the enormity of the stakes. Both clubs are fighting against relegation from the Scottish Premiership, with the Paisley side commanding a nine-point advantage over Hearts due to the Edinburgh club’s 15-point deduction for entering administration in June.
Every game this season has been likened to a cup final by the Tynecastle players, so what does that make today’s fixture? “A double cup final,” replied Hamill. “It’s one I’m looking forward to, as is everyone else in the dressing room, but I suppose it’s just another game at the end of the day.
“It’s a massive game for us. As long as we focus on our own business, if we keep picking up points and teams above us lose it’s going to prove vital at the end of the season.”
Who handles the pressure and occasion best will more than likely prevail. Given little was expected of Hearts pre-season following their hefty points deduction, Hamill believes the hype may get to St Mirren’s players. “Hopefully that’s going to be the case. Obviously they’ve had a few disappointing results, though they got a good one on Monday night against Aberdeen.
“They’re going to be under pressure, but so are we given we’re on minus points and trying to get to zero. Hopefully we take another step towards that today.
“This squad is good enough to stay up. I signed on to work with the gaffer. He has good ideas and we have some important, experienced players.”