WHEN Andrew Driver was Hearts’ talisman under Csaba Laszlo and valued by his club at £4 million some two-and-a-half years ago, you would have got long odds on the prospect of the winger ever being fully fit but unable to make the matchday squad.
However, having battled his way back after two seasons badly disrupted by injury, that’s exactly the situation the beleaguered 23-year-old finds himself in. It’s safe to say he is currently enduring his lowest ebb as a Hearts player.
Having been involved mainly as a sub as he built up fitness throughout the second half of last season, Driver thought his career was back on track once and for all when he scored on his first start of the current season against Paksi in Paulo Sergio’s first game in charge. Fresh starts and all that. Understandably, still finding his feet, Driver’s form wasn’t quite at the level Hearts fans had grown accustomed to in his pre-injury days but, with his last start coming in the convincing 2-0 home win over Hibs, he is more than a tad miffed at not even making the bench for a league game since missing the 1-1 draw at Inverness on September 10 with a niggling knee injury.
“I’ve not been injured at all,” he confirmed.
“I missed the Inverness game when I twisted my knee a little bit the day before the game, but it was nothing to do with any of the injuries I’ve had before. I probably could have played but the manager and I came to the decision that it probably wasn’t worth it.
“I was back training the following Tuesday and have been fit ever since, so it’s very frustrating that I’ve not been involved at all in the last six weeks.”
To compound his torment over being left out, Driver feels aggrieved that his latest absence will add to the perception that he’s a walking sicknote.
“I’m getting this reputation that I’m injury-prone, but I’ve been fit all season and training every day except when I got that injury the day before Inverness,” he said.
“I was a bit annoyed at the fact it was reported that I’ve been injured since then. This is a season where I wanted to prove that I’m not injury-prone and I’ve worked very hard to get myself back fit, so it’s really frustrating that people think I’m injured again. I’m feeling fit and training every day where, in the past, that’s not been the case.”
Speaking remarkably candidly on his current plight, Driver’s frustration is understandable when considering the fact that, throughout his Hearts career, he’s always been considered the golden boy who would play whenever fit. Now, with the likes of David Templeton, Rudi Skacel and Mehdi Taouil seemingly ahead of him, that’s no longer the case.
“Missing out through injury is bad enough but when you’ve worked so hard to get back and then you’re not getting picked it’s even more frustrating,” he said. “It’s hard because I’ve not been in this situation for a long time. I’ve got to keep working and hopefully get to the stage where he can’t leave me out.
“My aim eventually is to get into the Scotland squad but, right now, I just need to get as many games as possible under my belt and get my career back on track and anything else above that is an absolute bonus.”
Driver is not expecting the landscape to alter greatly when league leaders Rangers come to town tomorrow lunchtime.
“A televised game against Rangers would be a great way to remind everyone I’m still about, but the team’s winning at the moment so it’s a real long shot that I’ll be involved,” he said. “We’ve got two players for every position and the team are winning games, so I can’t go spitting the dummy out and shouting from the rooftops that I want to be playing.
“It’s frustrating that the Under-21 rule probably works against me as well in terms of getting on the bench but, regardless of that, I need to be doing enough so that rules like that are not even an issue.
“Another frustrating thing is we don’t have a reserve league, so it means when I do get another chance I won’t be match fit. You just have to hope the opportunities you get in training are going to be enough.”
An avenue may have opened for Driver to recreate himself as a back-up left-back to Danny Grainger, but the player admits such a prospect is not ideal with regards to his ambitions of re-establishing himself as Hearts’ most dangerous winger.
“The last few weeks the manager’s been trying me at left-back in training because we don’t have many left-backs,” he revealed. “I’d play anywhere to get a game but I was getting frustrated there and I didn’t think I was getting a fair crack of the whip to show him what I can do in my natural position.
“It wasn’t the fact I didn’t fancy playing left-back, it’s the fact it’s hard to play to your best in training when you’re not accustomed to that position and so it meant I wouldn’t be ready to step in if any of the guys in my position fell out the team.”