Jordan McGhee admits he needs to improve his physique before he can command a regular first-team place at Hearts.
The 18-year-old is keen to establish himself as a dominant centre-back but acknowledges that he must “bulk up” first.
Hearts have utilised McGhee at right-back and centre-back since he broke into the senior team at the age of 16. The long-term aim is to develop him as a central defender, which is the player’s preference. He aims to improve his physical strength to compete with others in his position.
Danny Wilson, Alim Ozturk and Brad McKay are all ahead of McGhee in the queue for centre-back places at Tynecastle, however the teenager is not worried about the situation with time on his side.
“I know I need to bulk up and I’ve known it for a while. I’m still only 18 but as soon as I do that I’m confident I’ll make the position mine,” said McGhee, a product of the Riccarton youth academy. “It’s always healthy to have competition but I’m still young and I need to wait for a chance in my right position once I bulk up. I’m sure I’ll make that position my own at centre-back, which I prefer rather than right-back.”
Head coach Robbie Neilson works separately with his defenders during training sessions to help them improve, both individually and as a unit. Assistant Stevie Crawford does likewise with the forwards. McGhee feels he and others are benefiting from the drills. Hearts have conceded only nine league goals this season and have yet to lose in the Scottish Championship ahead of this afternoon’s trip to Dumbarton.
“Nine goals is great. That’s a credit to Robbie, who’s taken the defenders away and done individual work with them throughout the season,” said McGhee. “It seems to be working so long may it continue. Of course you take pride in that record. Alim’s tackle in the last minute against Hibs is just as good as a goal for a defender. When you do something well, everyone else praises you.
“Robbie works on the basics with us – cross balls into the box that you need to deal with and one v ones. It’s really helpful and it’s paying off. We concentrate on attacking a lot during the week because teams sit in and defend. At the same time, you need to be switched on at the back so you don’t concede goals.”
McGhee is expected to be named amongst the substitutes at the Bet Butler Stadium today after starting both previous matches against Dumbarton. The teams drew 0-0 at “The Rock” in September before a convincing 5-1 Hearts victory at Tynecastle just four weeks later.
“I played right-back in the first game against Dumbarton down there and then I played centre-back against them at Tynecastle. They sat in down at Dumbarton and were hard to break down. When they came to Tynecastle they came out a bit and we caught them a few times on the counter-attack.”
Those results helped maintain an unbeaten league run which remains in tact at the moment. Hearts have gone 19 matches without defeat in the Championship and are fiercely protective of their record. “It’s something we need to try and keep going,” stressed McGhee.
“Obviously it’s a great record but we can’t take it for granted. We don’t want to slip up. There is a dogged determination but also a desire to win games. Through the management, coaching and video analysis we’re doing during the week, it pays off. Since pre-season we’ve tried to pass the ball, which is something we didn’t do much last season. It’s paying off for us and getting us results.”
Hearts certainly see McGhee as a player who could develop into a special talent and, as such, are close to finalising a new contract for him. His exisiting deal expires in the summer but he is expected to commit his future to the Edinburgh club within the next week.
“I’m just concentrating on trying to get back in the team,” said the player when asked about staying on. “My contract is up in the summer but it’s not a concern at all. I’m just getting on with my football just now. That will take care of itself.”