Rory Currie was perhaps the only positive from Hearts’ tame surrender at Easter Road on Wednesday. One flickering light shining through from a dark night in Leith.
The teenage striker came on at half-time with his team 2-0 down and facing an embarrassing Scottish Cup elimination by their biggest rivals. He wasn’t expected to stem the tide alone but managed to show in 45 minutes the appetite many more senior colleagues lacked.
It is an indictment of Hearts’ insipid display in the 3-1 fifth-round replay defeat that an inexperienced youngster stood out. It is also evidence of the kid’s ability and desire to impress.
Currie has forced his way into contention for a staring place tomorrow when Hearts resume league business at Firhill against Partick Thistle. In five first-team appearances so far, he has looked sharp, skillful and motivated. His first senior goal against Raith Rovers in the previous round of the cup also demonstrated his finishing ability.
He is confident he will continue to learn at Riccarton by playing a supporting role to more established forwards Bjorn Johnsen and Esmael Goncalves. But make no mistake, he joined Hearts to play regular senior football.
Born in Lanark, Currie spent time in the youth academies of both Celtic and Rangers before deciding to head east last summer.
Rangers messed him around by telling him at the end of last season that he was to return to Murray Park for pre-season training on a trial basis. Once he was given the chance to join Hearts, Rangers asked him to re-sign with them but he had already decided his future development would be best served in Edinburgh.
“I was at Rangers when I was nine and I moved to Celtic when I was 12. In summer 2015, I went back to Rangers. Then I went to Hearts last summer. I’ve been at Rangers twice and Celtic once,” he explained to the Evening News.
“Rangers told me I was to come back in as a trialist last summer. Once they found out I was signing for Hearts, they tried to get me to sign for them. Obviously, my mind was made up. I’d decided Hearts was the place for me.
“I had a meeting with Craig Levein and Robbie Neilson and they made it quite clear that youth development is a big thing at Hearts. They said they would strive to bring young players through, so that really made my mind up. I want the best chance I can get to play first-team football. Hearts is the club for that.
“They’ve been brilliant for me. I’ve been at Celtic and Rangers but Hearts have been the best with me. They’ve really helped my development and given me a chance that the other two didn’t give me. It’s been brilliant so far. Hopefully it keeps going that way.”
For an emerging player in Currie’s position, even the events of Wednesday night can be useful. It is all part of one very steep learning curve when you’ve only just turned 19 and every day is an education.
The forward was introduced from the bench by head coach Ian Cathro ahead of Johnsen, who was carrying a hamstring strain. He partnered Goncalves throughout the second half and earned positive praise for his performance amid the outcry from Hearts’ cup exit at the hands of Hibs.
“It was difficult [coming on at 2-0 down] but I went on and gave it my all,” said Currie. “The gaffer expects me to give it my all and I did that. It’s all I can do. Obviously it’s good experience and you’re disappointed at the end no matter what age you are. I am happy to get game time, but it’s still a hard result to take.
“It’s good for my development and experience. Obviously, coming on in a game that isn’t going our way isn’t the best but it’s still good in terms of my overall development. I can’t argue in that sense, although it was a disappointing result at the end of the night. We’ve just got to take it on the chin and move on, really. Disappointment is part of football.”
Celtic and Rangers used Currie as a wide player frequently at youth level, although he has predominantly played as a central striker since joining Hearts. His aptitude for that role offers hope that he can be moulded into a first-team regular with time and physical development.
“I used to play as a winger and that was my best position, but I haven’t played there for a couple of years now,” said the player. “I’ve always just played as a striker since I got to Hearts. I’d probably say that’s my position right now because that’s what I’m used to.”
He finds himself third in command behind Goncalves and Johnsen, with Conor Sammon on loan at Kilmarnock and Gavin Reilly at Dunfermline until the end of the campaign. He is determined to make the most of the opportunity and recreate more moments like that against Raith, when he scored his first professional goal on his first appearance in the starting line-up.
“It was a great feeling, indescribable,” he said of the strike, which equalised Bobby Barr’s opener for the Fife side in last month’s Scottish Cup fourth round replay at Tynecastle.
“It was probably the best moment of my life so far. It just felt so unreal. It was as if the world stopped, an amazing feeling. Everyone was up at me, giving me high-fives and saying: ‘Well done.’ I knew if I kept working hard I’d keep getting chances.”
So will he get another chance from the start tomorrow? “I’d like to think so but that’s not really my choice. It’s up to the gaffer. I believe in what he thinks so I’ll leave it up to him.”
After such a deflating experience against Hibs, Hearts fans could take small comfort from knowing their club continues to hone a young striker with all the hallmarks to make a lasting impression on Scottish football.