Once compared to Aaron Lennon, Jake Mulraney senses second chance at Hearts
A deep Irish accent and softly spoken tones mask the fierce drive within Jake Mulraney.
This is a footballer who has lived away from his Dublin home since the age of 15, fuelled by an inner desire to reach the top of his profession. Tonight, he takes the latest step in that crusade with Hearts.
Competitive action for the Edinburgh club begins at Cove Rangers’ new Balmoral Stadium in Betfred League Cup Group C. Whatever the surroundings may lack in glamour will not dilute Mulraney’s buzz. The 22-year-old winger senses a second chance has arrived and is eager to seize it.
He played at Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers in his teens and was released by both clubs. Dagenham & Redbridge, Stevenage and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have all been necessary stopping points on Mulraney’s route to top-flight football.
He impressed Hearts enough during a trial period in December to earn a two-year contract, with midfielder Angus Beith joining Inverness in a swap deal completed in May. Mulraney knows it is time to finally realise the potential which saw him previously compared to the England international winger Aaron Lennon.
“It was up and down since January. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what was happening,” he says of his switch to Tynecastle Park, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “It was only about two months ago I knew I was coming to Hearts. Inverness was like a stepping stone and this is an even bigger platform.
“This is one of the biggest clubs in the country so it’s a big step up. No disrespect to Inverness but it’s run a lot better here. You actually feel way more like a pro here. Everything is done properly, recovery is very efficient, all that stuff.
“I came over to England when I was 15. I was really young but I’ve been living on my own for a while. My girlfriend came over with me. My dad is down in Birmingham. I haven’t seen him in a while but he is close enough and I have other family down there as well. I’m alright.
“I’d like to achieve as much as I can with Hearts. You want to come to the big clubs to win trophies. That’s why I’ve come here. It’s up to myself to do enough to get in and around the side.”
He will use his strongest asset to help him do so – pace. Adjectives to describe it would include searing, burning, frightening and a long list of others. He is that quick. “I’ve always had pace. I’ve never really had to work on that, although I do some individual stuff on the side to keep myself sharp,” explains Mulraney.
Queens Park Rangers Under-21 coach Steve Gallen noted that commodity and others in the 18-year-old Mulraney, saying: “He is a left-footed winger who plays on the right. He has a bit of Aaron Lennon about him in his style of play. He is small with explosive pace, great speed – real acceleration. He is a typical winger who likes to get behind the full-back and get crosses in.”
The Irishman must prove he is more than merely a roadrunner to hold down a place at Hearts. Particularly since manager Craig Levein is utilising a 3-4-1-2 system and deployed Mulraney at left wing-back in most pre-season friendlies.
“I’ve had to change my position slightly because the gaffer is playing with wing-backs, whereas I’m more of a winger. You just adjust, I suppose,” says the player. “The more positions you can play the better. Last season, I played 95 per cent of my games on the right. It is a bit different coming over to the left but I don’t mind at all.
“I got a sense of it when we started training and working on team shape. There’s nothing you can do. You have to do what you need to do to play. The main thing is being more concentrated when you’re playing wing-back. There’s been a few times when Christophe [Berra] has had to give me a shout to get back in position.
“Last year, I wouldn’t have to get back in as quickly but now I have to get straight back into position, almost at left-back.
“Everybody wants to play. You just have to do whatever you can to get your name on the teamsheet. Everyone is looking forward to the competitive action starting. We’ve got these cup games and then we have the league starting against Hamilton, then Celtic at home in the second game.”
Before Premiership matches, there is a rather intriguing engagement with Mulraney’s former club at the end of the month. Inverness visit Tynecastle for the last Betfred Cup group match, bringing Beith, Brad McKay, Mark Ridgers and manager John Robertson back to their old place of work.
“I’m sure I’ll get a bit of stick off the boys up there. It will just be the same as any other game for me,” says Mulraney. McKay may not agree. He revealed on these pages a few weeks ago how being tormented by Mulraney in training led to him asking coaches not to put him one-on-one against the winger.
“I remember that,” laughs Mulraney. “He used to go mad. He would lose his head quite quick. That was the day before a game and I remember going one against one and just going past him. We just had to ease off because he was losing his head.”
So Mulraney could prove a useful weapon against Inverness. First, he must nail down that first-team place.