YOUNG kids with a burning desire are ten-a-penny in football. Those with the ability and attitude to achieve their dreams are not so common. Dylan McGowan is most definitely in the latter category and is not frightened to lay his ambitions on the line.
“One target is to make sure I’m here next year,” said the 21-year-old Australian, one of 14 Hearts players out of contract in June. “I want to earn myself a new deal because I’d love to stay here a lot longer and develop as a player at this football club. Hearts have done so much for me and I want to show a little loyalty back. I know that only happens through performing on the pitch. I want to give it my best, become a regular and get myself a new contract.”
Few who have watched his fledgling performances at first-team level this season would bet against him getting it. Facing Dundee United on Sunday is simply the latest test for McGowan, the younger brother of Ryan, in his quest to become an established face in John McGlynn’s team. He is grateful for every senior outing and is refreshingly mature enough to understand the process of a developing young footballer
“I’ve been over the moon that I’ve worked my way into the team this season,” he continued. “I’m just disappointed I got injured against Celtic and had to miss a couple of weeks. I was on the bench at St Johnstone last Saturday and got 45 minutes so hopefully I can do the same this week or maybe even be in from the start. I want to work on the performances I’ve put in and try to become a regular in the team.
“When I went on loan (first to East Fife in 2010, then Gold Coast United in his homeland the following year) there were a lot of players at the club. Then when I came back I found myself just outside on the fringes of the first team – somewhere I’d never been before. I was excited that I might get these opportunities. I’ve been a little bit surprised that they’ve come before Christmas. As soon as you’re in the team, you want to establish yourself as a regular as quickly as possible.
“I’ve enjoyed learning the culture of the club and being brought through the academy. You probably couldn’t get any further away from Scotland than Adelaide, where myself and Ryan come from. When I first came over I had to learn the culture, the way we train and the way we play. Even just watching the Edinburgh derbies, you get that feeling of what Hearts players should do and how they should play.
“You feel the expectation of the club and the fans and just how big the place is and how many people support Hearts. You learn how to act as a Hearts player. I think me and Ryan have taken to that pretty well.
“My parents told us before we left home, ‘you’ve got to jump at this chance. Hearts is a massive club’. They prepared us for coming here. In Australia, no matter who you support, all fans sit together at matches. There’s no segregation. The crowds are very calm. My parents told us there are big rivalries in Scotland, big crowds and a lot of passion. Me and Ryan have always loved that. It’s something that never leaves you, especially when you see how passionate the fans are in derby games.”
Regardless of ability and even maturity, every aspiring young player needs a manager to let him flourish. For McGowan, John McGlynn has excelled in that department.
“The gaffer has said, ‘if you’re worthy of a spot, I’ll give it to you’. He’s proved that with the young players so far. If they’ve done well, he’s kept them in the team. He isn’t afraid to drop players who are older or more experienced. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, if you’re doing the business for him then you’ll play.
“I think a lot of the young boys have taken that to heart, like Jason Holt, myself, Kevin McHattie, Jamie Walker. The gaffer has played us all at once and credit to him for that. A lot of managers would resort to experience in big games no matter how we’ll you’d done.”
Whether McGowan starts for Hearts on Sunday will depend heavily on the fitness of Darren Barr, who suffered a shin injury at McDiarmid Park last week. His first-team role, for the moment at least, seems to be centre midfield despite him being a centre-back to trade.
“I came through the youth system playing centre-back and I see myself as a bit more comfortable there,” he admitted. “We have two international players playing there at the moment. If my spot right now is centre mid then I want to make it my own and become a centre midfielder for as long as Hearts need me to play there. I think I’m more comfortable at centre-back, but in six months’ time I might feel the exact same way about centre mid. I’ll take it as it comes and play the role I’m told. Any experience is good experience.”
McGowan is well prepared for what United will have in store this weekend, especially from one of his old colleagues. “Dundee United have one of the strongest squads outwith Celtic and ourselves. Johnny Russell, Jon Daly and Gary Mackay-Steven are all dangerous forwards.
“They’ve got Rudi Skacel now as well and he’s a huge goal threat. Skacel is a great player, he’s a fan’s favourite at Hearts for good reason. I’ll relish coming up against him if I get the chance. I want to play well and keep him quiet, if that’s possible.”
If he manages to upstage a living Hearts legend, the Tynecastle hierarchy might as well draw up that new contract on Sunday night.