Delight among Hearts dressing room explained as the three Aussies head for Qatar

When the World Cup gets underway in little over a week’s time there is no doubt which nation the majority of the Hearts squad left at home in Edinburgh will be rooting for.

The English foursome of Alex Cochrane, Stephen Humphrys, Josh Ginnelly and Toby Sibbick will be cheering on the Three Lions – and likely Beni Baningime, having moved there from the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was eight – while Orestis Kiomourtzoglou will see his native Germany in action. Both for those who didn’t see their country quality there’s only one option and that’s Australia.

The Socceroos squad was announced earlier this week and, despite having just nine international caps between them, all three of the Tynecastle Aussies were included: centre-back Kye Rowles, right-back Nathaniel Atkinson and centre-midfielder Cammy Devlin.

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The latter appeared on a viral video posted out by the Australian national team on social media. It recorded boss Graham Arnold informing Devlin that he would be joining the squad in Qatar, prompting a highly-emotive response from the fans’ favourite. Widely viewed in the dressing room, there would have been the lighthearted ribbing which makes up the culture at any football team, but the squad are collectively delighted that three of their team-mates will be representing the club on world football’s grandest stage.

Hearts stars Nathaniel Atkinson, Kye Rowles and Cameron Devlin are all going to the World Cup with Australia. Picture: SNS

“It’s brilliant, we all have another team to support now,” said experienced defender Michael Smith. “If I can get the time to watch the games I will if the kids let me!

“I’m buzzing for them, it will be a great experience. You could tell when it was announced they were over the moon and there was probably a bit of relief because there was a nervousness there. The day the squad got released the changing room was over the moon.

“We all saw the video of Cammy being told and that’s what he’s like, he wears his heart on his sleeve. He gives everything, I’m delighted for him.

“The last time was the first squad he was in, so to get into the squad for the World Cup is massive for him and probably a huge relief. It was probably emotionally draining for him, now he’s got all the energy in the world again.

“It’s massive for the club, it’s big for the league as well, there are quite a few going to the World Cup. It shows you the strength of the league and the players in it.

“It will be good, I actually can’t wait. I love watching the World Cup and I can’t wait to see the boys come up against some world class players.”

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Atkinson is Smith’s direct competitor in the Hearts squad as the only two senior pros who are a natural fit at right-back or right wing-back, but it’s often been the case that one has started over the other due to necessity. Atkinson was thrust into action not longer after arriving in January due to Smith suffering a back injury which wrecked the second half of his 2021/22 season, while Atkinson has struggled to remain available this campaign.

“He’s obviously a good player, he has got good attributes. And like all the Aussie boys he has a great attitude and a great way of life,” said Smith about his younger team-mate.

“He’s an easy boy to talk to, and he’s had some injury problems and probably took a bit of adjusting to the league. But he was brilliant for us last year and I think coming back from the World Cup they’ll all come back really strong and be raring to go.

“I probably didn’t expect to play as many games as I did so far this season. Natty has had a few injury problems but he’s back now and we only have this one last game before the break. We have to recover, come back strong and be ready to play.”

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The 34-year-old has played in 19 of Hearts’ 23 games in a hectic start to the season due to matches being crammed in before the World Cup and the Gorgie Boys playing in European football. It wasn't exactly what the Northern Irishman envisioned coming into the season, but like every footballer he’s delighted to continually be asked to pull on the shirt.

“It’s only natural as you get older that you might not play as many games, it happens to us all,” he said. “I still feel fit enough and I’m ready to play every game that I can. The gaffer still trusts me so I’m happy enough.

“I think everyone was looking forward to Europe but it does take a lot out of you, especially all the travelling and stuff. If we win on Saturday we’ll stay in touch with third place and no one can say it’s been a really bad start. We would probably have taken that if you are still in and around that with the amount of games and changes we’ve had to make. There have been certain games where we have not been good enough but we know that, we’re coming into a bit of form and getting players back.

Often this season there has been a lot of inexperience in the defence alongside Smith with Cochane, Sibbick and summer signing Lewis Neilson all 23 or under. Has that extra responsibility been a bit more draining?

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“Not necessarily,” he responded. “Every player manages to look after themselves on the pitch first and foremost and if you can help others out you do that. We’re a good group anyway and we look after everyone in the changing room, we talk to each other a lot.”

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