Behind the scenes at Riccarton: How Hearts are converting Cammy Devlin into a different type of player
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Riccarton is a hive of ambition right now as Hearts strive for the next level. The Scottish Cup is targeted silverware and finishing third in the Premiership is an achievement they can only throw away given the 12-point advantage. There are also individual aspirations for players and coaches working collectively to squeeze every fraction of improvement out of one another.
Cammy Devlin is one such example. Already a cult hero in Gorgie, and arguably Hearts' best midfielder in the early part of this season, the Australian is one of many players being challenged daily to work on weaker aspects of his game. The demand from above is that he refines himself to become more of an all-rounder, a task he has assumed with typical enthusiasm.
Hearts want to convert Devlin from a defensive-minded midfield spoiler who breaks up play and snaps at opponents' ankles into a box-to-box type who can do a bit of everything. His infectious energy is something coaches want to harness whilst also working on things like ball retention and positional awareness to help him become more effective further forward.
This project kicked off last summer when Steven Naismith took charge and was progressing nicely before Devlin sustained an ankle injury in December. It recommenced this month following his return to Hearts' matchday squads. Naismith explained to the Edinburgh News exactly what he is looking for from the player.
"Cammy probably brings a bit of a different dynamic to the others in midfield," said the head coach. "We have competition in there, probably even more now than we did in pre-season. Macaulay Tait and Aidan Denholm have pushed on and they are chapping on the door to be selected. That's the case as much as Cammy is coming back from injury, and as much as Beni [Baningime] and Calem [Nieuwenhof] have been doing recently.
"I think there is a place for them all. Cammy is slightly different to the others in terms of what he brings, but we have been working hard with him on other bits he can improve on. His energy and ability to get about the pitch is arguably as good as anybody at the club, if not better. It's about not losing discipline at times.
"It's about being structured in your position. Because he is playing in a vital area of the pitch, he can't be indisciplined. A forward can be a bit indisciplined and just press and press because he's got the midfield behind him. If Cammy does that at times, it could become a problem. That was something we identified in the summer.
"To Cammy's credit, he has done really well at that. I think he can be more of a box-to-box midfielder, which I don't think he has been in the past. He gets about but it's then his decision-making with the ball - when can he pass forward? - and being brave at certain points rather than being safer. It's just these small details.
"Every player in the squad has got these wee areas where we want them to get better. If Cammy adds that wee bit to his game then I'm pretty sure he can go on to a really high level. It's hard and it's frustrating, but if there is anybody in the squad that understands it, then it's Cammy."
Devlin has been an unused substitute in Hearts' last two matches - last Wednesday's league victory at St Johnstone and Sunday's Scottish Cup tie at Airdrie. He can expect to be reintroduced shortly.
"Cammy is infectious and his level of commitment to the squad has not wavered," explained Naismith. "An example of that was against St Mirren at home. Macaulay came on and did really well and Cammy was the first in about him and praising him when you could argue there is a wee bit of competition there. He is a brilliant character. I'm sure he will be champing at the bit to get back involved."