AFTER 18 months seemingly spent in the wilderness, Darren Barr is finally proving his worth to Hearts. Not in defence, but in a holding midfield role he has adapted to admirably.
An extended run in the team has allowed the 27-year-old to properly show supporters his credentials having lingered on the periphery of the Tynecastle first team for long enough.
Barr has started Hearts’ last nine matches dating back to the Edinburgh derby win over Hibs on March 18. The cultured style of his play has surprised many who considered him nothing more than a rugged stopper. He now has licence to initiate attacks after breaking them up, and the stability he offers minimises the impact of Adrian Mrowiec’s absence through injury.
At the turn of the year, Barr had just 14 starts to his name since joining Hearts on a pre-contract from Falkirk in July 2010. Injury and an apparent loss of confidence rendered him a bit-part player and he wasn’t happy. Then, as often happens in football, the tide turned. He got his foot in the door as spring arrived, he impressed manager Paulo Sergio with several assured displays and he is now ending the season as a regular fixture in the team.
Finally, Barr feels he is justifying himself to Hearts and their fans. “They probably will at least know my name these days,” he smiled. “If results are going well then people are generally quite happy. I don’t look too much into what people say but I’d like to think the fans feel I’m doing okay.
“You know within yourself if you’re playing well.
“I try to keep myself to myself but, when you’re in a team, you want to be part of the group. You can say I maybe want to stay in the background, but all I want to do is play. That’s the main thing. I’m in amongst a lot of good players and I feel I’ve gelled a bit better with them now. I know more about how people play and I’ve learned that from being in midfield.
“Coming to a new club, you want to try and prove yourself to everybody – the manager, the fans, and everyone else. You want to show you’re worthy of a place in the starting line-up. I wouldn’t say I’ve won everybody over but, at the end of the day, I’m playing and I want it to continue that way.
“I’ve struggled with injuries here and there and then struggled to get into the side. I intend to enjoy it while I can now that I’m playing. I just want to play as many games as I can.”
He sounds genuinely grateful for the opportunities handed to him by Sergio. Barr regards himself as a defender first and foremost, whether that be at right-back or centre-back. Nonetheless, he has taken to midfield with confidence and composure and shown that, not only can he win tackles, he can drive forward and pass and move into the bargain.
“I feel as if I’ve been doing okay in there,” he continued. “It’s taken a bit of time and the boys have helped me get used to it. I played midfield before when I was younger, at under-19 level, but it’s taken me a while to get into it again. I feel I’m doing okay. I just want to help get results. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you play. You just want to win.
“I’m not bothered about my position but I am enjoying playing in midfield. I played there for a while as I said, but after that I was used in defence more. It was always a case of ‘can you play here?’ or ‘can you play there?’ I would just say yes and it went from there.
“I knew I needed to try and adapt to it if I wanted to play regularly. Hearts is a massive club so you want to be involved. It’s happened at the right time for me. I went in and took a chance and results have gone okay for us, so it’s been a bonus.
“I feel like I’m keeping up with the boys now so I just want to stay involved. I want to keep going now to the end of the season and keep my place, whether it’s midfield, defence or wherever.
“We have a lot of things to play for in the next few weeks.”
None bigger than the Scottish Cup, of course. Barr is reluctant to discuss the upcoming final with Hibs for fear of retribution from his manager, but within himself he knows he has a strong chance of being involved on May 19. He is contracted to Hearts until June 2013 and will be one of the experienced figureheads next year following the anticipated summer cull of high earners.
“I know there are a few boys going to leave but I think the base of the squad should still be here. There is still experience here. Webby, for example, has been brilliant this year,” he said. The cup final could be the last game at Hearts for several of his colleagues, but Barr is preoccupied with league matters for now.
Hearts require to beat St Johnstone on Sunday to have any hope of finishing fifth in the SPL, which would secure a European place rather than having to rely on winning the Cup to enter the Europa League. “There is still fight within us,” stressed Barr. “We still want to finish as high as we can in the league and end the season on a really good high. We got into the top six so we want to push on a wee bit more. You always want to make sure you’re getting results at home, but Motherwell and St Johnstone give you hard games as we’ve found out this season. It’s not going to be easy. We just need to concentrate on ourselves.”