Scotland caps, Wembley cup finals and the glamour of England’s Premier League. Don Cowie’s career includes many highlights but a new experience awaits this summer. The 33-year-old is about to sample European football for the first time.
Joining Hearts three months ago has proven to be a rewarding decision for Cowie as he anticipates a Europa League bow next month. He may be entering the twilight phase of his career but his enthusiasm for the future is boundless.
“I’ve not played in Europe. I’m sure many others in that changing-room haven’t played European football either,” he said. “It’s the reward for a fantastic season that the boys have had and we’ll be hoping to make the most of that come the end of June.”
He refutes any notion that there is little to play for in Hearts’ last three league matches, which begin today against Ross County. “You might think that but we’re all playing for next season. We all want to be in the manager’s plans. He’ll be looking to strengthen in the summer so you’ve got to do your best.
“We’ve got European football to look forward to so I’m sure everyone in the dressing-room wants to be part of that.”
The caveat, of course, is that Hearts’ close season will last just four weeks. There is little time for proper recuperation ahead of the Europa League first qualifying round starting June 30.
“It’s been a hard season, as it has for everyone when you play a lot of games,” continued Cowie. “You get knocks along the way and you try to play through them. It’s a short summer break as well so a wee rest now can help us in the long term.
“Sometimes I’ve had up to ten weeks off in the summer depending if there’s a European Championship or World Cup. This year is going to be four weeks, it’s going to be short and sharp. We’ve got that carrot of European football and that comes from the success of this season.”
Cowie will spend part of his time off in Newport studying for his UEFA B Licence. He isn’t entirely convinced about coaching or managing once his playing days end but he is determined to keep all options open.
“I started my badges last summer. I’m doing my B Licence with the Welsh FA through the connection from when I was at Cardiff City. Since I left school, I’ve been in full-time football so it’s only natural you do it. Whether it materialises, who knows? If you make the movement to do it then it could become an option further down the line. Whether it’s something I want to do, I’m not sure. It just gives me that option.”
Hearts’ prospects next season look good following an exceedingly successful first year back in the Ladbrokes Premiership. There is strong hope amongst many at Tynecastle that they might be able to welcome neighbours from across Edinburgh when the new campaign begins.
“No disrespect to anyone else in the play-offs but, inevitably, we want Hibs in the league,” insisted Cowie. “I got a taste of the derby in the cup games and the atmosphere, at Tynecastle especially, was incredible. It was one of the reasons I wanted to come to the club.
“When I signed, Hibs were very much at the forefront of promotion. It’s been a long season and they’ve tailed off a bit, but if they can get back into the Premiership, it would be great not just for Hearts, but for everyone. I watched many a derby on TV and thought I was aware of the tension between the two clubs but when you actually experience it yourself, you realise how much is on the line. I’d love to taste that again this season.”