Kevin McHattie hangs hat on Hearts maturity

Kevin McHattie shows off the new Hearts kit. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
Kevin McHattie shows off the new Hearts kit. Pic: Lisa Ferguson
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Modelling next season’s Hearts kit allows Kevin McHattie a glimpse into the future and a glance at the past.

The strip is a throwback to the club’s 1914-15 outfit before their entire team signed up to fight in World War I, which claimed the lives of seven players. The new kit is in honour of their sacrifice during battle.

A far less important conflict takes place on the football field at Easter Road this Sunday when Hearts face Hibs. McHattie is eager to don the new commemorative strip, but first there is much work to do in the existing Hearts kit before it is decommissioned next month. Beating Hibs is dominating the thoughts for now, with fixtures against Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle and St Mirren still to come.

Relegation was confirmed earlier in the month but the Tynecastle club will have a major say in who might accompany them into the Championship.

Only three points separate the other five teams in the Scottish Premiership’s bottom half as the fight to avoid the relegation play-off intensifies.

No matter the stakes, nothing in football could ever compare to the killing fields of the Great War or what McHattie’s predecessors suffered 100 years ago. The left-back knows he is following the footsteps of people who gave their lives for their country and for Hearts. Motivation for Sunday certainly won’t be a problem in light of the emotion provoked by this week’s modelling assignment.

“It’s a lovely kit. I’ll look forward to wearing it and I’ll be proud to wear it next season,” he told the Evening News. “The history behind it is massive. I wasn’t a Hearts fan when I was younger but, since coming to the club, everyone speaks about the history and the backing the supporters give us. It’s great to see that with things on the up right now. I think you need to be here to appreciate it. All the fans give you that because this is a great family club, which I expected when I came here.”

McHattie will enter double figures in terms of derby appearances this weekend. His previous nine have brought mixed fortunes – three wins, three draws and three defeats. He is now much more confident about taking the field against Hibs compared with his first derby outing in August 2012.

“I was nervous, definitely. It was my second start and my first derby,” he recalled with a smile. “I tried to work my way into the game and just keep things simple. That’s what the gaffer said to me that day and I’ve shown I can deal with it since then. It was a bit overwhelming at the time. I look forward to every game but that one was a bit special because it was my first one.

“The first few derbies down there [Easter Road] were a bit nerve-racking but it’s all about experience and how you deal with it. I’ve got the experience now so I’ve just got to go and prove myself.”

Three weeks ago, Hearts and Hibs met at Tynecastle in a game which would have seen Hearts relegated had they lost. After delaying the inevitable with a 2-0 win that day, the pressure shifts to Hibs this weekend. They must halt a poor run of form that includes only one win since their 2-1 defeat of Hearts on January 2.

In a stark contrast to events across the city, those in maroon have blossomed with the pressure off and their relegation sealed earlier this month.

“All the boys are gelling now and I think we’ve become more of a team,” explained McHattie. “We’re cutting out the mistakes at the back and up front we’ve got Dale Carrick doing a good job. We’re holding the ball up and creating chances through our wingers. I think we’ve needed that from the start and everyone is high on confidence now. Character has come into the squad and the players are obviously getting better. All the young boys are more experienced now and we want to carry that into the next season.”

McHattie does not subscribe to theories suggesting Hibs are destined to join their Edinburgh rivals in next season’s Championship. Morale may be low in Leith but that won’t affect this weekend’s encounter, for every derby has an air of unpredictability to it.

“It definitely won’t be a factor. Derbies are tough games and this one will just be a battle. Whoever wins their individual battles will win the game, I feel. That’s what derbies are about. I don’t mind that, to be honest. I think we’ve got the players to cause them problems. We’ve got guys like Sam Nicholson, Billy King and Jamie Walker, who is just back and looking good in training. We looked solid at the back at the weekend as well when we beat Ross County.

“We’ll just do our thing on Sunday and let Hibs deal with what they have to deal with. We want to try and finish within 15 points of the bottom team so we can say we’ve done our part and done our best. The gaffer has pointed out the importance of that to us.”

The gap between Hearts and second-bottom Ross County is 15 points at the moment. Setting little targets has helped ease Gary Locke’s young squad through the most difficult of campaigns and they are now ready to emerge stronger at the other side.

“We’ve begun to get the feeling that we are first-team players now because we’ve been playing week in and week out. You have the more experienced boys like Danny Wilson, Ryan Stevenson and Jamie Hamill. Danny has talked me though games at times and, as a young player, it’s great learning the game like that.”