Craig Halkett reveals the secret to Hearts' transformation from Brora Rangers to Europe in just over a year
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Halkett was on the pitch that night at Dudgeon Park and suffered with everyone connected with Hearts as Brora recorded a famous second-round shock. After a summer rebuild underpinned by improved fitness among players, Tynecastle Park is an altogether different place.
Newly-promoted Hearts secured third place in the Premiership and guaranteed European football last weekend with a 3-1 league victory over Hibs. The second of back-to-back Edinburgh derbies comes this weekend in the last four of the cup.
A Hearts win is likely to ensure European group-stage football next season – completing a remarkable overhaul since that night in the tiny village of Brora.
“I think it has been a massive change. I wouldn’t say I would have been shocked but if you had told me 13 months ago we would be in this position I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” admitted Halkett.
“The manager and Joe Savage [sporting director], the coaches and the people upstairs all have to take a lot of credit for the job they have done. They’ve done wonders over the last year and a bit to build this squad and get all the results that we have had this season.
“I think the players have got to take a good bit of credit as well because we have all worked hard all year. It’s been good. This Hearts that I am at just now, where we are and all the excitement around the club right now, is what I thought I was signing for. I’m glad it is what it is now.”
Halkett joined Hearts in summer 2019 from Livingston but his new club endured a controversial relegation less than a year later when the Covid shutdown began.
“When we got demoted, I had that extra bit of fire in my belly to make sure we got straight back up. When I signed for Hearts the last thing I thought I would be doing was playing in the Championship,” said Halkett.
“So it was all about going away in the summer, getting my head down, working hard and getting back into the Premiership. From the season I signed we knew it wasn’t good enough, so last summer was about working to get into the best possible shape.
“All the boys knew it was a massive season just coming up and thankfully we've managed to finish third.
“It's a big thanks to the sports science department. We had four or five weeks off but they ran sessions in here [Riccarton] every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That was right through the summer. I managed to get in as much as I could and it definitely helped.
“It's really important to have your rest. But once you hear a few boys are going in, you almost have a full session on despite the fact you're meant to be off. With the shape the boys were in and the start we got in the league, you realise how important that time was.”