Andy Halliday reveals sole summer focus as Hearts man recalls 'best ever advice'
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Over the course of the campaign the 31-year-old was satisfied with how he played, which is probably what the vast number of his team-mates would say if asked to consider an average across the ten months and 50 competitive games. However, they let themselves down as the season came to a close, winning only two of their last 11 games.
It put Halliday in mind of advice he received from old boss Phil Parkinson during his time at Bradford City, his final club down south before he moved back to Scotland with Rangers in 2015. Unless your output can be easily measured in goals or, perhaps, assists, it doesn’t really matter what you do across the course of a full campaign, fans only remember the last six games. Football is very much a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ kind of sport, after all.
He’s now returned to the squad in pre-season with renewed vigour as a result. Shaking off the temptation to enjoy his summer break to the fullest, Halliday had his mind set on keeping up his conditioning to ensure he hit the ground running when training got back underway.
Turning 32 in October and entering the final year of his deal, Halliday knows the onus is on him to disprove any doubts that he can still cut it as a regular first-team presence at a club the size of Hearts. He also wants to get fully to grips with the style of play demanded from the management team since Steven Naismith took over in April.
“All my stats towards the start of pre-season have been the best I’ve been for a number of years. I’m under no illusions this is a big year for myself,” he told the Daily Record.
“Phil Parkinson gave me the best advice I’ve ever had from a manager. When I looked at my season last year I was happy with it. But Phil said when we were in the play-off positions with Bradford that fans only remember the last six games of the season.
“For how well I felt I performed last season, in terms of consistency levels I think the worst period was the last six games. I only started two but in the St Mirren game I was nowhere near good enough.
“Through the whole summer I was left to stew on that and not finishing third. I look back at what Phil said and he was spot on.
“I tried to sacrifice my summer as much as I could to come back in the best condition. It’s up to me and the squad now to continue that in pre-season to give ourselves the best chance to be successful. It’s been the hardest for a few years, especially in terms of volume.
“It’s potentially because of the change in style. Towards the end of the season the plans were to be very much more frontfoot. Quicker in attack, quicker going forward. Not quite direct but less passes to get in the opposition half.”
The run which ultimately cost Robbie Neilson his job also meant Hearts missed out on another guaranteed European group-stage campaign. The opportunity still remains, but Hearts will be unseeded in the third qualifying round for the Europa Conference League, with a play-off to come even if they are victorious in their initial two-legged encounter.
Halliday believes the squad were guilty of becoming a little too comfortable, having established an eight-point lead in third place in February. Once that had a negative impact on results they couldn’t pull themselves out of the tailspin, which moved the Hearts board to show Neilson the exit door.
They weren’t able to recover in time to reclaim third place, but Halliday credits Naismith with shaking off the sorrow and righting the mindset of the squad as the campaign drew to a close.
“I played against Naisy. We’re similar characters. He’s definitely moanier than me though,” he said. “I like that. The boys know that if they tail off the standards then he’s going to be on you. That’s important.
“I also had Naisy as a team mate here for a year. That’s no different to him as a coach. He’s desperate to win and demands the same standards he put on himself.
“At the time he came in as interim boss that was exactly what the squad needed. We’d let too much slackness come into our game or training. Winning is a habit, working hard is a habit, and when you don’t win for seven games it can be hard to get out of that rut.
“Subconsciously as a player you feel sorry for yourself because you’re losing games and it’s affecting your mood. You come in on a Sunday morning then a Monday and a Tuesday - that’s three training sessions you’re not going to get back where you never put in 100 per cent because you were feeling sorry for yourself.
“You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. Especially post split where every match matters. Thankfully we got enough points at the end to sneak fourth. But we certainly want to go one better this year.
“Aberdeen deserved to finish third. But it’s hard not to mention the injuries we had to key players last season. We still had enough quality to achieve our goals. The one really poor run cost us third.”