Big interview: Jamie Walker on his Hearts future, injury troubles, extra training and goalscoring

Winger training on days off to improve fitness and impress manager Daniel Stendel

By Barry Anderson
Thursday, 6th February 2020, 4:45 pm
Jamie Walker is eager to impress Hearts manager Daniel Stendel
Jamie Walker is eager to impress Hearts manager Daniel Stendel

Peak Jamie Walker is a sight to behold. Think back to season 2016/17, when 15 goals saw the rampant winger touted for a Scotland call-up.

He has yet to recapture that form since rejoining Hearts from Wigan Athletic last summer, but Saturday's Scottish Cup tie at Falkirk offers ample opportunity to ignite his second spell in Gorgie.

An impressive midweek cameo outing against Kilmarnock means Walker is in contention for a cup starting place. He stands just two short of 200 competitive Hearts appearances, yet is still just 26 years old. He remains a figure of significant untapped potential.

A broken leg and a knee injury have hindered him since returning to Tynecastle Park and he is understandably eager to show that the old Walker is still there.

Like the rest of the Hearts squad, he is still fine-tuning himself to manager Daniel Stendel’s methods but a more attacking gameplan fits in with the player’s style – even if defending needs worked on.

“To stop conceding as many goals in the first place, the gaffer wants us winning the ball high up the pitch. If I can get myself into the team, I think I can do that,” said Walker in an exclusive Evening News interview.

“Young Euan [Henderson] and Lewis [Moore] have been doing well recently. When the new manager came in, I was just coming back from an injury and then I got injured again. No-one is guaranteed to play. I need to do what I did when I came on against Kilmarnock, set up a goal and contribute to the team.

“My main attributes are getting at people and creating things in the final third. I’ve scored a lot of goals here before so hopefully I can work my way in. If we can stop conceding as many goals at the back, I’d like to score a few myself.”

Falkirk’s astroturf surface does not put him off. Walker is doing extra training in an effort to regain a starting berth and won’t let a synthetic pitch deter him.

“I think I’ll be fine. I’ve had a few problems with my knees but, if the gaffer wants me, I’ll be happy to play. I wouldn’t say I’m 100 per cent fit but the injury is clear. I’ve been training hard since I came back at the end of the winter break. I’ve been in on days off and things like that, so hopefully it shows on the pitch.”

He is frustrated that his second spell in maroon is yet to take off, even if injuries are the principal reason.

“It’s been disappointing. Results have been poor. It’s been stop-start being out with injury, coming back and then getting injured again. Between now and the end of the season, I want to get back in the team and hopefully help us stay in the league.”

That will depend on tightening a defence which has lost six goals in two games against St Johnstone and Kilmarnock.

“We started really well on Wednesday, got a few corners, had a few chances and then found ourselves 2-0 down. I was just watching from the bench at that point but it was disappointing,” said Walker.

“The manager wants to attack more and push high up the pitch but until we get it right and everyone nails down their jobs, I think we are going to concede a few goals. It’s something for us all to work on and hopefully we can tighten up.”

Regardless of the club’s current league position, there is no question Walker sees his future at Tynecastle. Suggestions of a January exit did not pass him by but his contract runs until summer 2022.

His priorities between now and the summer are helping Hearts preserve their top-flight status whilst showcasing his best form in front of Stendel.

“It’s part of the world now,” he said of the speculation on his future. “You see stuff on social media, in the newspapers and on the news that things are happening and they aren’t one bit true.

"I’m here and hopefully I can work my way into the gaffer’s plans. I’ve got two and a half years left on my contract. Obviously the final say is up to the manager. From now until the end of the season, I want to prove to the gaffer that I can be here.”

A cup run would help enormously. Walker was in the Riccarton youth academy in 2012 when Hearts last lifted the Scottish Cup and remembers the euphoria funnelling down from the first team following the 5-1 win against Hibs in the final.

A fifth-round tie away at a third-tier side is as good as any Premiership side could hope for, although Falkirk should not be taken lightly.

“You can’t beat a good cup run at any club,” said Walker. “We beat Airdrie in the last round and this is a decent enough tie for a club like Hearts. It’s one we are looking forward to. We want to win and get to the next round.

"Falkirk are winning in their league most weeks and are full of confidence. The game is on astrotruf and it won’t be easy. There are harder ties we could have got, we will be favourites so we are looking forward to it.”