Robbie Neilson fine-tunes Hearts’ pre-season plans

Robbie Neilson

Robbie Neilson

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Hearts’ players will be given a seven-week break before returning for a pre-season schedule that could include a trip to Ireland.

The club are already well on their way to finalising plans for pre-season even though dates for the Premiership kick-off and the first round of the League Cup are yet to be confirmed.

The Championship title 
winners will break up after the last game against Rangers on May 2 and will resume on Friday, June 19 to begin preparations for next season.

Hearts returned on June 23 last summer, but Robbie Neilson’s team will be back slightly earlier this time round. The Premiership kicked off on 9 August this season and will finish on May 25, but will have to finish earlier next term, as Euro 2016, which Scotland are in contention to qualify for, kicks off on June 10.

“It’s an early start for us,” head coach Robbie Neilson told the Evening News. “It’ll give us a six or seven-week pre-season depending when the first league game is but we can’t wait until the SPFL decide dates before we start making our own plans.

“A lot of teams are still waiting to see what their plans are because they don’t know when they’ll finish this season.

“You only have to look at our league, when you could finish on the 2nd May or the 2nd June [depending on making the play-offs]. That can have a big impact on your pre-season plans.”

Wrapping up the Championship title before the end of March has allowed Hearts to make a head-start in preparing for next season.

They have already confirmed a friendly at Stirling Albion on July 14 and hope to announce some more in the near future.

A trip to Ireland is a possibility, although Neilson will not be taking his team to mainland Europe.

“We’re well on our way to getting all our games sorted,” he said. “We’ve got a few games lined up but they’re still not confirmed yet. Until they’re concrete we don’t want to put it out there because people will start making plans.

“We might possibly go to 
Ireland at some point if we can, but nothing’s concrete on that.”

It remains to be seen if James Keatings will be around to join up with the squad in June.

It was revealed last week that the former Celtic and Hamilton striker had been told he was free to find a new club if he wished to pursue more regular game time.

Keatings is believed to be mulling over his options, but Neilson is adamant that he will be more than happy if he is still able to call on the services of the 11-goal striker next season.

“James has got a year left on his contract and he’s a big part of the club,” said the head coach. “He came to me and asked what my thoughts are on him for next season. I was honest with him and said, ‘I don’t see you playing 35-40 games, I can see you making 10, 15 starts and coming on as a sub to make an impact’.

“It’s up to him if he’s at a stage that he wants to stay and play 10, 15 games or whether he wants to play 40 games a season.

“If he wants to stay I’ll be delighted because he’s a real impact player who can come on and score goals.

“We can get good use out of him next season. If he wants to go then we’ll back him to the hilt because he’s been great for us this season.

“It’s the exact same as Brad McKay this season although Brad spoke to me in January about it.

“He asked me what my plans were and I had the same conversation. He decided he wanted to play week-in, week-out and I’m not going to stand in anyone’s way.

“Their career is short. If they ask a question you have to be honest with them. If you’re not honest with them now then next season it will come back to bite you. Players want to play football.”