BRAD McKAY is not one for mincing words. “It’s not damaging me. I love Hearts and I love playing for Hearts.
Even if I only had one leg and I was playing for Hearts, it wouldn’t damage me. I’m sure the other boys feel the same.” His defiance in the face of Hearts’ travails indicates a young man with the required resolve to achieve plenty in football.
Regular defeats are dispiriting but McKay is adamant they are not endangering his development at Tynecastle. He has yet to complete a full year since making his senior debut at Easter Road last March but is already a first-team regular in a wafer-thin and inexperienced squad. Relegation appears to be looming on the horizon, yet the 20-year-old is hardly in a state of melancholy.
He is audacious and aggressive when asked about the opportunities he has had this season, and their effect on his fledgling career. He is similarly challenging on the issue of belief within the dressing-room, with Hearts needing to overhaul a deficit of 19 points to have any chance of staying in the Scottish Premiership.
“You’ve got to believe. If any of the boys didn’t believe then I don’t think they would turn up to training,” said McKay. “It would be crushing. If you thought it was over, what would you do every day? Turn up to training thinking ‘that’s us relegated’? The boys who are playing have got to believe, the boys who aren’t playing have got to believe. As long as you have belief then you’ve got a chance.
“There’s no pressure on us. There’s never been pressure at all with the 15-point deduction. Obviously you feel pressure in games because there are pressurised matches, but there’s never been pressure on the team because everyone expected us to roll over and die.
“It’s difficult not getting results. We’re on a bad run and haven’t won for a wee while, but we’ve got to stay as positive as we can. It’s always difficult physically and mentally when you’re not winning. The only way to get out of it is to be positive. If you’re going to sit with your head down and feel sorry for yourself, you’re going to crumble and die. You’ve got to be positive.
“While it’s mathematically possible, then it’s possible. We’re not going to give up. We never would. If anybody at the club is going to give up then they don’t deserve to be here.”
Such strong words could act as a rallying call to his young colleagues as they try to do the impossible and keep Hearts up. Administration and a registration ban has given McKay and many others a chance to sample first-team football. Due to circumstances, some have been promoted from the Riccarton youth academy before they were ready to graduate. McKay knows he would probably still be marshalling the defence in Hearts’ Under-20 team but for the club’s financial collapse last year.
“It’s given me a chance I maybe wouldn’t have had if Webby [Andy Webster] and [Marius] Zaliukas were still here, or other boys who could have come in,” he explained. “I know the boys are glad they’ve had their opportunity, but maybe would could have done with a couple of more experienced guys in to give the young guys a break. It can have a detrimental effect on the young boys.
“I got chucked in at the deep end. I made my debut at Easter Road in an Edinburgh derby. I came on when I wasn’t expecting to. I think it’s best when you’re flung in at the deep end instead of being helped in. I think you should just get chucked in at the deep and if you can handle it, you can handle it. I’ve played a lot of games in the Premiership now so it can only be a good thing.”
The emotional aftermath of Hearts’ latest disappointment, Sunday’s 2-0 defeat by Partick Thistle at Tynecastle, still lurks near the surface for McKay. It was another day when sub-standard defending cost the Edinburgh club dear and led to manager Gary Locke criticising the cheap goals conceded.
“Sunday was a missed opportunity and there are a few games I’ve felt like that,” said McKay. “There are a few games we could’ve and maybe should’ve won. We haven’t played as well as we hoped to but there are plenty more games to come. You’ve just got to look at the teams above you who are closest to you. You can’t look any further than that. The boys just need to stick together because I know there are a lot of people saying ‘that’s it done, that’s it finished’. I don’t think anybody inside the dressing room believes that. It’s only us who can change it.”
McKay believes the 2-1 defeat at Ross County last September was a pivotal match which sent Hearts into their downward spiral. They have won only once in the league since. “If we’d won away at Ross County, they would have been looking over their shoulder at us. They took their two chances at the end and scored two goals. That’s almost the turning point of the season for us when they scored those goals and pulled away a bit. We just need to claw it back as best we can and give ourselves a chance.
“Mistakes cost a lot of people at the highest level. It just feels like we’re getting punished for every mistake made. It’s been like that since the start of the season. We need to eradicate the mistakes because if you make them, you concede goals.”