Sam Nicholson says thoughts of facing Rangers at Ibrox and Hibs at Tynecastle to start the new season are driving the Hearts players through the torture of pre-season training.
Head coach Robbie Neilson has formulated an intense training programme this summer, which Nicholson admits is leaving him and his colleagues struggling to catch a breath.
Double sessions, involving hours of running and physical endurance work, are testing the Hearts squad to their limits. Neilson intends to implement double training sessions at times during the new season and therefore wants players to have a strong basic fitness level.
As they pound the training pitches of Riccarton, Nicholson and his team-mates are motivated by the prospect of running out at Ibrox and facing Hibs in the Edinburgh derby in next season’s SPFL Championship.
“Rangers and Hibs is a hard start for us and it would be good to get through them,” said the winger. “We’d rather test ourselves like that and it’s going to be good for the team. That’s what we’re building on in pre-season. We’re looking forward to the season starting so that’s driving us on during pre-season, but at the end of the day there’s always going to be more running to do.
“I’ve not played at Ibrox and people like Scott Robinson say the atmosphere there is frightening. I don’t mean we’d be scared, I mean it’s supposed to be a really good atmosphere. It will be a really good game.”
Nicholson explained that Neilson and director of football Craig Levein have a clear plan for Hearts which the players are excited by. “The first few games have all been about fitness. We lost on Wednesday night but it was a good run out for us. It’s given us a wee bit more sharpness.
“The running’s a lot harder than before, with a lot of double sessions. He [Neilson] has a target for us so we all need to get our game fitness from the next few friendlies. The plan they have for Hearts is really good and we all like the sound of it.”
With five new signings needing to integrate into the squad, last week’s training camp in England proved especially useful. “We all went away to Manchester and it was good for team bonding,” said Nicholson. “We had people up singing in front of the team and everything. I didn’t sing because I did it last year. I sang Broken Strings by James Morrison.
“This time, James Keatings sang Stand By Me, or he tried to anyway. He sang the first word and then everyone burst out laughing and he had to stop. A few of the younger boys sang as well.
“We’re all bonding well. If there’s a mistake in any of the friendlies, nobody is moaning. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be shouted at if you consistently make a mistake. It’s just good that everyone is there for each other.
“There are younger people than me in the squad, like Angus Beith and Liam Smith, and they’re obviously not afraid to make a mistake. They’re actually playing really well and it shows they’re not afraid to make a mistake because people around them are telling them not to worry about it. That makes it easier for them to shine now.”
• Sam Nicholson was speaking as Hearts launched a new partnership with the famous Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tynecastle’s main stand. Manchester City are the visitors next Friday, July 18, to mark the occasion and a special Gorgie Club Jazz Evening is planned featuring Italian brass band Bandakadabra. They will also play on the pitch at half-time. Tickets for the pre-match entertainment, which begins at 5.30pm with hot food in the Gorgie Suite, cost £40 and are available by calling 0131 200 7271