Ben Garuccio is a foreigner from the other side of the world who has only lived in Edinburgh for six months. Ask him about the significance of Hearts against Hibs and he nails it unequivocally despite just one experience of the fixture.
Some new recruits struggle to comprehend the ferocity of the Capital derby. Others simply aren’t able to cope. This Australian defender is already there having conducted some personal research upon joining Hearts from Adelaide United in June.
“You speak to every fan and, from 90 per cent of them, I’ve heard: ‘I don’t care if you lose every game but if you beat anything that’s green, then we’re happy.’ You speak to anyone around the club, you speak to the kitman and he’ll say the same. He wants to win these games,” said Garuccio, speaking in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“When you hear those comments from people and you speak to people who have played for Hearts before, you start to understand. You want to go out there and prove why you should be playing for this club in those games. You want to go in, win the challenges and get the crowd fired up. Why not? It’s part of the game.”
Garuccio is therefore itching to get to Easter Road. He received a brutal introduction to the Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle Park in October. He was accused by the Hibs manager Neil Lennon of trying to get Florian Kamberi sent off following the Swiss striker’s challenge on Garuccio’s compatriot, Oliver Bozanic. Then came ugly scenes when Lennon was struck by a coin and the Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal hit by a Hibs fan whilst retrieving the ball.
While not condoning the disorder, Garuccio admitted he thrived on the fiery nature of the occasion and insisted he did nothing wrong regarding Kamberi.
“I love that. I love those big games. I played in a few derbies back in Australia and they are pretty feisty with big crowds. It’s not something that is new to me. What happens on the field is part of the game. If you see someone who has a yellow card and you think you’ve got the chance to try and rev them up, I think anyone would do that.
“You’re trying to do something to help your team. It’s not that you’re going out there saying: ‘I’m going to get someone sent off today.’ You are in the heat of the moment and you’re trying to do everything to get that little advantage for your team. That could be the difference between winning and losing.
“It’s not that I enjoy being in the thick of it but I was there and it’s just spur of the moment. If you’re on a yellow card, you need to try and keep your head in those moments. Unfortunately for them, he lost his head so he was sent off.”
Hearts’ Boxing Day win over Hamilton brought three much-needed points following a run of just one win in ten games. Garuccio enjoyed one of his finest performances in maroon whilst his left-back rival, Demetri Mitchell, served a suspension. The Australian is now desperate to retain his place for the trip across the city.
“It was maybe my second-best game for Hearts. My best was when I scored and got an assist, so I’ll take that and a win that day [against Inverness]. I was happy to contribute against Hamilton, we got a clean sheet and it was a good result. I’ve said I want to play every game but my performances will dictate that. Hopefully Wednesday’s performance was good and I can build on that.”
The 23-year-old’s attacking instincts were clear as he assisted Steven Naismith’s opening goal in the 2-0 win and might have etched his own name on the scoresheet in the second half.
“I had a couple of good opportunities – one when I chopped the ball twice and should have just hit the shot. There was another one as well,” he admitted.
“I’ll have to deal with Olly Lee moaning for the rest of the week because apparently he was on for a cutback. I’ll have to live with that but it’s positive when you’re getting up the field into attacking positions.”
Hearts’ gradual improvement is underpinned by experienced figures like Naismith and Christophe Berra returning from injury at a crucial time.
“As the gaffer said, confidence builds the most with good results. This is what we want to get back to, especially at Tynecastle,” said Garuccio. “Earlier in the season we were winning and winning convincingly there. It was nice to get back to that on Boxing Day. We’ve had a nice win and a clean sheet so everyone is going to be confident heading into the derby.
“The biggest thing for us is to not be intimidated. Look at the start we’ve had this season. The last few weeks don’t matter. It wasn’t just luck that we started the season so promisingly. We are getting injured players back. You see the difference Naisy and Christophe make so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be 100 per cent confident.
“It’s come at the right time. This is what everyone wanted heading into this massive game. We will be up for it. We are going to go there and fight and hopefully we will get a good result. I’m sure the atmosphere isn’t going to be as good as it was at Tynecastle but if it’s even half of that it will be a top game. The last one was crazy so I’m looking forward to this one.”