KEVIN McHattie admitted today that he’s gutted for injury victim Danny Grainger – even though it paves the way for an extended run in the Hearts team.
Grainger ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during a league game against Motherwell a fortnight ago and is set to miss the remainder of the season.
That means manager John McGlynn will have to rely more heavily on McHattie, and the 19-year-old is delighted to have the extra responsibility on his shoulders.
However, Grainger has been something of a mentor for McHattie and has helped him through his step-up to the first-team squad with both vocal and practical advice.
McHattie said: “Danny is always speaking to me and helping me out. He tells me what I can do better which is great for me as a young lad. I am gutted for Danny because he was doing great before he got the injury. He had his operation this week so hopefully it goes well and he will be back playing soon.”
Sympathy for his team-mate apart, McHattie is keen to make the most of the first-team opportunity that has come his way. He played every game during Hearts’ pre-season and, with Grainger suspended, started the opening two games of the current SPL season.
After dropping out to make way for the Englishman, McHattie returned to the starting line-up against Celtic last month and has now made five competitive appearances for the club this term.
He has loved every minute of game time that he has been given. “Danny had been playing well, I was on the bench a few times and sometimes I was left out but you have to respect the manager for that,” he said.
“But then when Danny had his injury, I was raring to go. It is great being in the team and I feel I have settled in after the first couple of games. You just have to be confident with your performances and also help get the victory which is key.
“I started the season with the Under-20s and it is a massive step up going into the first team. We have guys like Marius Zaliukas, Andy Webster, Ryan McGowan and Jamie MacDonald at the back so it is a great experience stepping into it.”
McHattie has got some other first-team experience under his belt, having played six games on loan to Alloa last season.
He loved working under former Hearts midfielder Paul Hartley and feels that the experience was beneficial to him.
He added: “I made my senior debut for the club when I came on for the last 10 minutes of our 3-0 win over Aberdeen at Tynecastle at the start of last season. I then went out on loan to Alloa where I played six games which was a good experience.
“It was great working with Paul Hartley with him being an ex-Scotland player. I loved it and it was a good experience playing in front of the fans.”
It was a surprise for McHattie when he was propelled into the side at the start of the campaign but the highlight for him, without a doubt, was his first taste of the Edinburgh derby.
While the Jambos lost out in the cup clash with their rivals more recently, McHattie has some brilliant memories of the 1-1 draw from the beginning of the season.
“It was the Edinburgh derby at the start of the season when we drew 1-1 at Easter Road.
“It was a great experience although I was surprised to get the call to start. It was a great occasion, being my first derby, and all the hype surrounding it.
“That just makes me want to play more and play in bigger games. The first five to ten minutes were nervy but after that I grew into it and I had Marius helping me through it to keep me right.”
McHattie started his footballing career with Dunfermline, despite growing up in the family home in Glenrothes as a Raith Rovers supporter. It was while on international duty as a Pars player that he was spotted by Hearts scouts.
“I came through the youth ranks at East End Park and then I ended up joining Hearts when I was 16,” he recalled.
“I was playing with the Scotland Under-17s when Hearts had been watching me and then they approached me. It was a great move for me at the time to come to a great club with a great history.
“Dunfermline was a good club to be with coming through the ranks even though I was a Raith Rovers fan.
“My grandad used to take me to watch the [Raith] games. but my parents have always been there for me and they have always wished the best for me.”