DEEP in suburban Adelaide, South Australia, Mr and Mrs McGowan will just be rising for the day when Hearts meet Celtic at Tynecastle. By the time they arrive at work, son Ryan will have blitzed their mobile phones with messages of delightful ribbing if the final result goes his way.
The Hearts defender’s family is dominated by Celtic supporters with both his parents originally from Glasgow. The time difference means they will monitor events from Tynecastle on television before heading out on Thursday morning. Many within the McGowan clan have already had their say on this evening’s encounter.
“I do get stick. My family are mostly all Celtic fans so I’ve been getting a little bit of abuse this week. That’s just part and parcel of football. Over here I’ve got some Hibs friends – well, I wouldn’t call them friends – but some people who support Hibs. Then there’s others who support Hearts. It’s good banter before a game,” he laughed.
McGowan has already demonstrated he is no shrinking violet on the field this season. He doesn’t take the ribbing personally and is quick to issue a retort when the opportunity arrives.
“If we win tonight I’ll be straight on my phone sending a few messages out to people back home. All the SPL games that are live on TV here are shown on TV back in Australia, so it’s good for my family back home that they get to watch me in these games.” Last month, family Down Under saw him score his first Hearts goal during the high-octane New Year Edinburgh derby at Easter Road.
“That was an unbelievable feeling,” he continued, another smile etching itself across his face. “The goal wasn’t exactly a screamer, in fact I wasn’t sure if the ball was going in already or if it was going to hit the post. I just made sure by heading it in. To score at the Hearts end, with my first goal for the club, made it so special.
“The supporters have been very good to us this season. We went through a bit of a sticky patch and they’re still there. I was just happy getting my first goal in front of them and it was so much more enjoyable because it was against Hibs. The fans were tremendous, as they always are at Easter Road. That’s why our players look forward to going there.”
Celtic are certain to relish a trip to Tynecastle tonight as they seek a 16th consecutive domestic victory. The last Scottish team to beat them was Hearts, last October in Gorgie, when Rudi Skacel and Ryan Stevenson scored in an impressive 2-0 victory.
McGowan cut a somewhat disgruntled figure in the stand that afternoon as he initially struggled to establish himself under Hearts’ newly-appointed manager, Paulo Sergio. Four months on and he is enjoying a prosperous run in the first-team as deputy left-back.
“I played full-back a couple of times at Ayr but never at Hearts,” he explained. “I think I’ve coped alright.
“It’s not too much different to other defensive positions. First and foremost, you need to defend properly and then try to get forward as much as you can to support the forward players.
“It’s been an up-and-down season for me. I was playing in the team at the start, then I dropped out. I’m just making sure that I do well in every game I do play. Hopefully I continue to play in these games because facing the likes of Celtic, Rangers and Hibs at Tynecastle are always huge occasions. The boys are right up for it because these are the games you want to play in.”
The imposing figure of Danny Grainger, Hearts’ regular left-back, is looming large over McGowan.
The Englishman should be back in the squad this evening after overcoming the groin problem which has sidelined him for over four months – the exception being the Scottish Cup fourth-round tie with Auchinleck Talbot, when he attempted a premature comeback.
Grainger, at 25, is the more experienced defender compared with 22-year-old McGowan. However, the young understudy has no intention of stepping down quietly. “When Danny got injured, the manager showed a bit of faith and put me in at left-back. He thinks I’ve been doing well so he’s kept me there. He picks the team so I just need to make sure I’m hard to leave out.
“Every game is a big game for me because I need to make sure I play well every time I’m on the pitch. I need to make it hard for the manager to drop me. Obviously Danny has been fit for a couple of weeks and is getting towards full fitness. With him coming back, I need to make sure I make it as hard as possible for the manager to decide who should play.”
Hearts, who are without the suspended Ian Black tonight, can close to within three points of Motherwell with a win this evening. McGowan said the club’s intentions between now and the end of the season are clear.
“We are aiming for as many points as we can from now till the end of the season to try and catch Motherwell. We want to be in third place, and that’s not just the players but the club as a whole. That’s what we’ll be going for.”