Having played alongside Jamie MacDonald in almost half of the Hearts goalkeeper’s total career appearances at senior level, Neil MacFarlane can call upon plenty of first-hand experience when he argues that the former Scotland Under-21 internationalist deserves his chance in the first team.
In nine years at Tynecastle, MacDonald has mustered more first-team appearances for Queen of the South, where he spent a year-and-a-half on loan from 2007 to 2008, than for Hearts.
He was at Tynecastle during MacFarlane’s time there from 2002 to 2006, but the two set foot on a field together only when MacFarlane had moved to the Doonhamers, MacDonald joining him for the Dumfries club’s epic Scottish Cup journey which culminated in a narrow loss to Rangers in the 2008 final.
Although, since returning to Hearts, MacDonald has tallied just 23 first-team appearances at intermittent intervals over three seasons, MacFarlane believes it is time for the goalkeeper, now 25, to be given his chance by manager Paulo Sergio.
“I personally believe he’d do the business,” said MacFarlane. “Hearts have two good goalkeepers, with Marian Kello first choice, but Jamie has to keep working hard. On the playing aspect, it’s going to be tight this year.
“The main thing for him is playing regularly. Hearts have such a big squad, and he’s training every week but playing once a month.
“He played almost every round for Queen of the South on the way to the Scottish Cup final. Coming to the club at the time helped him. He needed to play in the first team, with a good club and good players. Speaking to him then, he enjoyed it. As much as the club was good for him, he was good for us. It brought him on confidence-wise – yes, he dropped a division, but he was playing every week and playing well.
“I think the word will be frustration. When he left Queens, the hope was he would go and play regularly. I saw the game against Tottenham and he played against Rangers a couple of times and did really well. The thing on his side is he’s still young, but that won’t hide the frustration. If you asked him, he’d probably say he needs first team football.”
MacDonald has rarely disappointed and often impressed when called up to the Hearts senior team. He is reliable, loyal, safe and, importantly, persistent. After proving himself as a top performer time and time again, and having had to work to impress countless managers over the years, the question is: when will his patience expire?
“He came out his shell at Queens with [manager] Gordon Chisholm, and I think he is the type of guy who would approach the boss to ask when his chance will come. The more experience you get, the more you learn to deal with these things, and I think Jamie is wise enough to know how to approach it.
“He has to remain patient for a certain time, and then, although he’s young, he’ll know when it’s a personal thing and he doesn’t want to sit out anymore. Then, you take a step back. There’s always something else out there for him.
“Whether he is good enough or not? No doubt about it, speaking personally, that goes through every player’s mind. You see yourself out the team and put two and two together – that’s an indication to any player.
“Every player, if he has anything about himself, wants to play. It would be very hard for Jamie to leave Hearts. They are a massive and brilliant club, so it’s difficult to make a decision like that. But, there comes a stage when he needs to fulfil his ambition.”
MacDonald is a model of consistency and perseverance, and the odds are his chance will arrive to prove himself as a proficient goalkeeper. Whether it is Hearts or another club who will extend that opportunity to him is another matter entirely.