Callumn Morrison migrated from Riccarton’s youth dressing room into the senior changing area last month. He has made 36 appearances for Hearts and turns 20 in July, yet still does not consider himself a bona fide first-team player.
Rules within the Edinburgh club state that academy kids must play 30 games for the first team before they have the right to change beside the experienced professionals each day. Morrison has achieved that landmark but still isn’t entirely convinced that he belongs there.
Even Steven MacLean threatening to cut up the teenagers’s shorts hasn’t persuaded him. What he wants is more game time and goals, starting at Hamilton tomorrow. If he helps Hearts qualify for European competition over the coming weeks, maybe his promotion will properly sink in.
“I’m in there now, in the first-team dressing room. It’s alright. My gear hasn’t been done yet. I’m just waiting for that to happen,” he smirked. “Macca did say to me one day: ‘If you ever wear those shorts again I’m going to cut them up.’ He promised me that. I asked him why and he said: ‘Just don’t wear them again.’ I haven’t had them on since. I might wear them again at the end of the season.
“If I get a bit of stick I’ll give it out. I don’t feel there’s that much difference overall because it’s just a place where you get changed. It’s good to be in there, obviously.
“I don’t count myself as a first-team player yet, though. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still 19. I’m not sure when I’ll feel like a proper first-team member. Maybe when I get to 50 appearances. I just see myself as being in between the reserves and first team right now. I’m still trying to establish myself.”
That self-effacing outlook is exactly what the Hearts management team want from emerging youngsters. Morrison winced slightly last summer as new signings arrived by the day – 18 new recruits in total – for the winger worried about his own prospects of a breakthrough. The concern was misplaced. Tomorrow will be his 35th appearance of the season.
“When I saw all those new signings come in, I thought: ‘It’s going to be so hard to get a chance.’ I thought a lot of the young boys would probably go out on loan but I was just lucky. I got my head down in pre-season, worked hard and took my chance when I got it,” he said.
“This is a lot more than I expected. I’ve made a lot of starts in the team and I can’t believe it. I was on loan in League Two and then the Championship last season. I didn’t expect this at all.”
One event he was better prepared for was the arrival of his first child. A few days after his first goal for Hearts against St Johnstone in January, baby Harris Morrison was born.
“He is just sleeping and eating, basically. He is doing well and my Mrs is fine as well,” said the player. “I was focusing on my football even though the baby was coming. It’s been a massive change to my life this year. I had no idea I would play all these games in the first team. The gaffer has put a bit of faith in me and I’ve enjoyed it.”
So much action can take its toll on the body, however. Morrison gets periodic pain from his knee after undergoing cartilage surgery last season. He will require another operation at some stage.
For now, there is too much to play for and he is understandably reluctant to step out of the squad at such a key point in the campaign. Hearts reached the Scottish Cup semi-finals on Tuesday night and are still fighting for a Europa League qualifying slot in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
They face Hamilton on a synthetic surface tomorrow but even that won’t deter Morrison.
“I don’t mind playing on astroturf. I’m not one of the boys who will say: ‘I can’t play because of my knee.’ I’m willing to play. I want to play games. If I hurt it, I hurt it. I just want to play.“I’ve had a bit of problem with my knee all season. I got an operation on my cartilage just over a year ago. I get wee niggles here and there so it’s all about managing the knee.
“At some point, I do need surgery on the knee again. I’m trying to manage it and see if we can deal with the pain just now. There was a time earlier in the season when it was really sore but all of a sudden it’s gone away after a few days rest. I just need to rest it when I can.”
The feeling that now would be the worst possible point to be sidelined is confirmed with a glance at Hearts’ fixture list. Important games are piled up on the horizon. Hamilton tomorrow is followed by Aberdeen at home, Rangers away, an Edinburgh derby against Hibs and then that semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Morrison hopes to be involved in all of the above.
He is also poised for a Scotland Under-21 debut before March is out. Scot Gemmill, who coached the Hearts winger in the Under-17 national team, has called him into the Under-21 squad for this month’s friendlies in Marbella against Mexico and Sweden.
It should come as no surprise by now to learn that Morrison is taking that accolade in his stride like everything else which has come his way of late.
“It’s always good to get away with Scotland and it’s a good experience. Hearts is my main focus but it’s a nice bonus being in the Under-21 squad. I played at under-17s under Scot Gemmill so I’m looking forward to working with him again.”
He doesn’t get over-excited, but that is part of his strength. It is also a reason why he is now a recognised figure at Hearts whether he likes it or not.