Andy Kirk hailed his time playing under Craig Levein as the best of his career, and believes the current players at Hearts now have a manager that “gets” what it means to ply your trade in maroon.
Levein signed a three-year contract to return as manager of the Tynecastle club on Monday, having spent the previous three years working as Director of Football – a role he’ll continue to peform alongside his managerial duties.
Kirk arrived in Gorgie as a 19-year-old signed by Jim Jefferies, but it was under Levein that he really established himself as a Hearts striker, scoring 30 times in 114 appearances across five years.
Now confirmed as the club’s Under-20 coach on a permanent basis following Jon Daly’s promotion to the first-team staff, Kirk believes having his former manager back in dugout after an absence of 13 years is a wise move on behalf of owner Ann Budge.
“He’s played here, he’s managed here and he knows what the club’s all about,” said the Northern Irishman, fresh from a 4-1 Under-20 derby win over Hibs. “He’s got a passion for it, like we all do. For myself, once you’ve played for Hearts, you understand what it means and what you need to be. It’s a great club and my time here was the best time of my football career and I’m thoroughly enjoying being back on the coaching side of things.
“We’re all just looking forward to getting on with things. Hopefully everything goes well – we’ll all get behind Craig and have a good season.”
Having trained and sat in a dressing-room under the former Scotland boss, Kirk knows Levein’s current charges will not lack the information required to do what’s expected of them. “They’ll be organised and know exactly what jobs they’re supposed to do,” he explained. “When I played under Craig the details were spot-on. You knew exactly what you had to do and he made sure you did it.
“He’ll command respect straight away and for the boys that don’t know him, they’ll get to know him pretty soon. He brings that experience and that knowledge of the game, he knows the players and club inside out and I hope everyone can get behind him so we start kicking on.”
Levein’s appointment may have come as a surprise to many, but Kirk always believed it was a possibility. “In the role he was doing as Director of Football, he’s done a great job with the academy,” he reflected. “He’s brought in staff and has a way he wants to work and a way he likes to do things. Once you’re a manager you’ve always got that in you and fair play to him, he’s stepped up to take the team and hopefully we’ll go from strength to strength.”
There was also praise for the interim job done by Kirk’s Under-20 predecessor since the start of the season. “I have to mention that Jon Daly did a fantastic job,” he said of his colleague. “He was thrown in at the deep end a wee bit but the way he handled himself and got the boys organised, plus the respect he got from the players, was great.
“For me as a younger, aspiring manager it’s great to see guys like that doing well. People talk about experience and stuff like that, but how do you get it? It was great from Jon, Foxy [Liam Fox] and Austin [MacPhee] the way they handled the team. Everyone else dug in and made it possible, which was great.”