Ryan McGowan would gladly take another ban if it meant victory

Ryan McGowan stoops to nod the ball home. Picture: SNS

Ryan McGowan stoops to nod the ball home. Picture: SNS

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THE exhilaration of seeing his header ripple the Easter Road net during the last Edinburgh derby will never leave Ryan McGowan.

Not even a subsequent two-game ban for violent conduct towards the Hibs winger Ivan Sproule could dilute his euphoria.

When Graham Stack saved Andy Webster’s header from a corner, the ball bounced up in front of McGowan virtually on the goal line. He nodded it into the rigging to open the scoring in what would become a 3-1 Hearts’ win, and was soon punching the air with all his might in front of the delirious away support.

When the Scottish Football Association later issued the Australian a two-game suspension for pushing his head into Sproule’s chest, he couldn’t have cared less. “Nothing could have taken away the joy of scoring,” he smiled. “I could have been suspended for the rest of the season and it wouldn’t have mattered too much. Getting my first goal down that end is just something I’ve wanted to do since I came here.

“The memories of that game are just good for me, to be honest. Obviously getting my first goal and getting a win was the most important thing. The stuff that happened after didn’t have too bad an effect on the game itself. It was a little bit disappointing (being banned) but that’s out of my hands. It was more important that we actually got the three points.”

Although delighted that his first senior Hearts goal had come against the club’s fiercest rivals, McGowan had to argue his case later on to ensure he was not robbed of the credit. “I wasn’t too sure (if the ball had already crossed the line). I sort of knew that I got the last touch, but I was more just delighted that we scored. It was more after the game that a few of the boys said they’d seen it on TV and it was already over. Then I thought ‘Jeez’. If it was already over it would have been tight but it wasn’t over just yet.

“I did have to argue my case a little bit. Especially because Andy Webster scored later on in the game. I thought, ‘you can have one and I’ll have one’ kind of thing.”

As always when Hearts matches are televised, the McGowan family were watching attentively back home in Adelaide. “The goal had a bigger impact back home than I thought. There was more interest from journalists back home because the game was being shown live there, and that can only be good for Scottish football.

“All the games that are shown live over here are shown live back in Australia, so any time that our game’s on TV I’ve got friends and family back home who get up and watch it.”

This Sunday’s derby suits the McGowan clan because its noon kick-off time means they can sit down to watch the match at 10.30pm local time. “Yeah, I think that’s why they’ve done it,” laughed McGowan. “I had a quiet word to them and said ‘Listen, mum and dad are always up late, could you make it a bit earlier?’”

McGowan’s passion for the Edinburgh derby stems from a childhood of watching various derbies from around the globe. His parents are Celtic fans originally from Glasgow and therefore focused mainly on Old Firm encounters, but their son was an all-round football fanatic. When he arrived in Edinburgh to join Hearts, the importance of beating Hibs quickly became apparent.

“Probably the first derby I went to was when I realised how big it was. That would have been when you realise the importance it has to the fans and how long they remember things for.

“It was the game after Hibs had won the CIS Cup (in 2007), down at Easter Road, and we were struggling. Me and Temps (David Templeton) were room-mates back then so we both went down to Easter Road. They had sold out the ground because they were doing the cup parade after the game.

“That game made us realise how big a thing it was and how big derbies are, especially when you win them, because the fans remember that and it’s something that until the next one you’ve got bragging rights for. I remember me and Temps were at the back end of the stand and the police were trying to tell us to leave (to allow Hibs to parade the trophy). We were more excited by winning and just being a nuisance really, not leaving.”

Despite scoring in the previous encounter with Hibs, McGowan is not guaranteed his place this weekend. His performances at right-back this season have been commendable but, with Jamie Hamill available after suspension, manager Paulo Sergio has a decision to make.

The 22-year-old can operate in a number of positions, though, and believes his versatility to be an advantage rather than a curse. “I don’t really have one favourite position. At the start of the season I just wanted to play as many games as I could. If that meant left back, right back, centre back, centre-mid, I didn’t really mind too much. I’ve played a lot at centre-back coming through for Hearts, but when I was back home I played a lot centre midfield, and when I was on loan to Ayr I played a lot at right back. So it just depends on where the manager wants to play me.

“Say I was only to play centre back. Webster and Zaliukas have done very well this season so it would have been hard for me to get any game time. But being that little bit more versatile, when Danny Grainger was injured I got to shift over there, when Hamill’s been suspended I got to shift over to the other side. So it gives more options and a bit more game time.”

With both Edinburgh clubs on opposite sides of the SPL split, Sunday could be the final Edinburgh derby of the season. Unless both progress to what would be the mother of all Scottish Cup finals for fans in the Capital.

“That would be something. It would be a massive occasion – Edinburgh would invade Hampden. No-one would want to miss out and it would be a massive, massive game.”

For now, McGowan’s focus in on helping Hearts qualify for Europe. He pays no attention to the fact Hibs are fighting relegation. “We don’t really worry about that too much. We just concentrate on ourselves. If Hibs were in the top six and we had another chance to play them that would be good, because they’re big games and ones you want to be involved in. But we’re more worried about getting the points and getting into Europe than if we get to play Hibs again.”