Exclusive: Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin discusses pressure during the biggest month of his career
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First there are important club assignments like Saturday against Celtic. Europa Conference League matches against RFS and Istanbul Basaksehir also lie in wait before international duty comes into full focus. Devlin admits he can’t stop thinking about a potential place in Australia’s World Cup squad.
National coach Graham Arnold is due to name his group early next month, therefore Devlin is literally playing for a place in Qatar over the next few weeks. He left Newcastle Jets to join Hearts last August with a burning ambition to become an Australian internationalist. That dream became reality last month in a friendly against New Zealand. A significantly greater prize is now the next target for the diminutive midfielder.
“Playing for your country is the biggest achievement you can get in any sport. It’s something I wanted to do since I was a little boy,” he says, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I made my debut last month and there is a World Cup coming up. If I play well for Hearts, I will at least put myself up for selection.
“That’s the goal and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Arnie is really good. He lets you go about your work. The physios and staff keep in touch to make sure your body feels good and you’re happy. Arnie just tells you to keep playing and then you will have a chance of being selected.
“Obviously there is pressure. It’s a World Cup, which only comes around every four years. To even be talking about going is quite surreal. When you’re a professional athlete, if you crack under pressure then you probably won’t have the career you should have.
“Playing in Scotland is probably perfect for me because you are under pressure every week. At Hearts, you’ve got to win and perform. That has been good for me, learning to deal with situations like that. I’m someone who enjoys the pressure to perform. It gives you than extra meaning to go out and do well.”
The intensity at Tynecastle Park tomorrow is the kind Devlin is referring to. Celtic’s visits to Gorgie always generate high-octane football oozing with drama and controversy. It can be a whirlwind occasion but Devlin relishes the demands of those encounters.
A rash challenge against Rangers at the start of the month earned the player his first red card in Scottish football, causing him to miss recent Premiership matches at Kilmarnock and Aberdeen through a resulting two-match suspension. Having reflected, Devlin is eager to return to Hearts’ starting line-up against the other half of the Glasgow pair and prove lessons have been well and truly learned.
“I’ve been gutted after the red card but it's how you bounce back,” he explains. “I was on the bench against Fiorentina at home after the Rangers match and I got 40 minutes. Then I got 90 over there. It’s important for match fitness when you can’t play at the weekend. I was disappointed to miss Aberdeen and Kilmarnock but that’s what happens when you make silly decisions. The suspension is over now and I’m back.
“This is a similar level of opponent tomorrow and I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson. Actions speak louder than words. I’d love to have the opportunity to show that on Saturday. Not just to show I’m not going to get sent off but to show I can perform in a big game.”
He knows Hearts need his zest and drive. With only three wins in their last 14 matches in all competitions, the Edinburgh club are after a result to stem a run of frustrating results. They are without a clutch of experienced players through injury and Celtic arrive top of the table and in fine goalscoring form. They have found the net ten times in their last two games.
Devlin is ready to rise to the challenge despite a certain amount of adversity facing him and his colleagues. “This is when you show how close you are as a team,” he says when asked about what kind of response Hearts fans can expect. “We have a changing-room of winners, the staff are winners, so we want to win. Things haven’t gone our way and we’ve had a tough run of games with Europe in midweek, travelling, and opponents. That’s no excuse for the results.
“We know we need to improve and Saturday is a big test. These are the games you want to bounce back in. Playing the top of the league – everyone knows Celtic are probably the best team at the moment – is a game you want to be involved in. It gives you a lot of confidence if you get a result. Even if we had been winning, you are up for this game naturally. With the position we’re in now, you need to be up for it twice as much.”
Hearts sit seventh in the table ahead of the weekend’s fixtures but know that they remain close enough to third place than a couple of results can propel them several places upwards. The Premiership has always been that type of league and Devlin is feeling fit and ready to help with the task ahead.
“My body feels good. The last game I played was a week ago in Fiorentina. I’ve had a bit of time to get the body back feeling good, so now I’m ready for Saturday and I can’t wait.”