Aaron Hickey interview: I have to keep my feet on the ground
When a 16-year-old is the star of a Scottish Cup final in only his second senior start, there is always the danger that the only way is down thereafter.
Early impressions from Aaron Hickey this season suggest that won’t be the case, however, and that this really is only the start of a thrilling and limitless journey for Hearts’ exceptional young left-back. Having kicked off the new campaign with another elegant display against Dundee United a fortnight ago, it spoke volumes about his character that his performance against Stenhousemuir on Wednesday was one of the main positives of a largely excruciating evening for his team.
His four competitive starts to date – two against Celtic last term and the two Betfred Cup outings this month – have all provided different types of examinations of his credentials and the recently-turned 17-year-old from Glasgow has passed every one with graceful aplomb.
“Hopefully I can keep playing well consistently,” Hickey told the Evening News. “I just need to try and get as many minutes as I can and just keep this going. It’s been really good so far. I’m obviously loving every minute of it but I have to keep my feet on the ground because there’s tough competition with Aidy White and Bobby Burns. I have to keep working hard in training and in the gym to make sure I keep getting better.”
Since making an eye-catching debut as a substitute away to Aberdeen in May, Hickey has started four of Hearts’ past five competitive matches. So impressive has he been, it would be a major surprise if he isn’t in the starting line-up when his team return to Pittodrie to kick-off their new Ladbrokes Premiership campaign a week on Sunday. The teenager is revelling in his rapid rise to prominence.
“It’s been a boyhood dream to get this chance,” he said. “I’m miles ahead of where I expected to be. When I signed for Hearts last year, I was hoping to get a few games for the 18s and hopefully a few matches for the reserves, but amazingly I’ve ended up starting a cup final. That was a real surprise for me. It was a really good experience for me to play in the final and I’ve had another few matches on top of that. A few days after the cup final, I went on holiday so I just had to try and take it all in and try and enjoy it.”
While most observers were left staggered at how well Hickey handled the cup final against Celtic a month shy of his 17th birthday, the boy himself insists he found it fairly natural. “I think I knew I had it in me,” he said, bashfully, when asked if he was surprised by how well he played in the biggest match of his young life.
“I was nervous before the game obviously because I was playing in a final at Hampden but as soon as the whistle went, I was fine. I knew I just had to help the team as best I could and stay calm.”
Hickey has brought a sense of serenity to the Hearts left-back area. Even when danger lurks, he always seems to be in control, gliding around the pitch with a sense of composure belying his inexperience in senior football.
Asked if he felt as calm on the pitch as he looks, he said: “Yeah, sometimes I do feel calm. If I’ve got lots of space, and the game’s going really fast, I know I just have to try and keep the ball and calm it down, and that can help the team.”
In addition to his temperament, Hickey’s two-footedness has been another notable aspect of his play so far. “I’m more left-footed and I can strike the ball better with my left but I can play on my right without any problem,” he explained. “It’s always been pretty natural to me because I’ve used both feet from an early age. I don’t really think about it. I just hit the ball with both feet.
“When I was playing in the back garden, my dad was always telling me to use both feet and do keepie-ups with both feet. I think that’s probably helped me a lot. Not all players can use their weaker foot, but it’s a big thing to have. Against Stenhousemuir, it allowed me to cut inside and hit the big diagonal with my right.”
Having made such a sensational breakthrough, Hickey’s next challenge is to establish himself in the first-team this season, with the league opener against the Dons already in his sights. “Aberdeen is where I made my debut so it will be nice going back there next week,” he said. “I just need to keep working hard and try and get a spot in the team for that. I want to get more minutes this season, play more games and help the team as much as I can.”