Barrie McKay reveals the Andy Halliday messages which helped convince him Hearts was the right club
Call logs and text messages on Barrie McKay’s phone confirm a gargantuan effort by Andy Halliday to lure him to Hearts.
Recent weeks saw the winger peppered with communications from his old Rangers team-mate stressing that Tynecastle Park was the ideal destination for the next chapter of his career.
McKay eventually agreed and signed a two-year contract on Tuesday after weeks of deliberating over his future. He left Swansea City in June and is now poised for a debut in Sunday’s Edinburgh derby after being reunited with Halliday.
“He has been on at me for the last couple of weeks while the move has been pending,” admitted McKay. “He has been saying: ‘Come in, it’s a great bunch of boys, great facilities, the manager is good, the way they play is good and it will suit me down to a tee.’
“It has only been positive things I have heard from everybody so that helps when you are coming somewhere. You can get one player who will say one thing but the next player will say something else. But this has all been positive so I’ve been looking forward to coming in.
“I had other offers up here, and down south, and abroad as well. It was a case of picking somewhere I knew I could settle and just get back to playing football and enjoying it.
“I know quite a lot of the boys here and they set it was a great set-up with a great bunch of lads. It's important when you go into a changing-room that everyone is pulling in the right direction.”
Pursued by the Hearts manager Robbie Neilson for several years, McKay relented this time with an admission that “persistence pays off”. He even rejected a late approach from Hibs which provides an intriguing undercurrent to this weekend’s fixture.
“There would be a spotlight on me anyway because I am coming back up the road and I’m a new signing. But the derby game will take care of itself and I can play my own game if I’m involved or get any time on the pitch. I want to play my own game and not let it affect me.”
He is convinced that, at 26, Hearts are getting a more rounded footballer than the one who left Rangers for Nottingham Forest four years ago. He moved to Swansea 12 months later and spent time on loan at Fleetwood Town last season. England’s lower divisions have added an extra tier of experience.
“I'm a lot more mature and I understand the game better,” he said. “You pick up different points from different managers you work with. The gaffer here will have different points again.
“I'm not exactly old but hopefully I can help out some of the younger boys here. That's something I've tried to do over the last couple of years. If a young boy comes into the team I try to talk to them and help them out.”
Edinburgh derby edge
He boasts an abundance of footballing knowledge despite the relative youth, although the Hearts-Hibs derby is unchartered territory. “I've never been to one but I've watched them. It's easier because I'm from up here. You know the hostility you get, feisty tackles, all that stuff. Every derby is the same.
“Edinburgh derbies have that little edge. I've always watched them when they have been on. When you are in the opposition team it's tough at Tynecastle. I'm looking forward to fans being behind me this time. I haven't played in front of fans for 18 months so it will be special to have them back in.”
The excitement is building on both sides of the Capital’s football divide. The only issue for McKay is how long he can last on the field. Hearts don’t expect to get much more than 30 minutes from their latest recruit so he is unlikely to play from the start.
“No matter your fitness levels, adrenaline gets you through it. I've trained all week and I feel good so hopefully I can be a part of it,” said the player, who missed all of pre-season training whilst trying to decide his future.
“I’ve been doing a lot with a personal trainer and it was enjoyable but you miss the banter of being around the boys and the intensity of training,” he conceded. “There is only so much you can do but I’m feeling good. It is probably the longest I have ever had off so I’m looking forward to getting going again.”
Asked if there is unfinished business in Scotland, and specifically whether he wants to add to the solitary international cap achieved in 2016, McKay is philosophical.
“It is a whole new start for me and it is important I just go out there and do my best. I’m not thinking about what happened in the past. I will do my best and not think about what happened in the past. I will focus on what I do now rather than what I did years, and years ago.
“It is taking one step at a time. I’m just here so I have to concentrate on getting into the Hearts team first and see what that is like and if I can get back into the Scotland squad, great.
“I need to be producing the goods at Hearts first. If I’m not doing that then I won’t be near it so there’s no point in worrying about it now.”