Don Cowie’s year-and-a-half at Hearts hasn’t exactly coincided with the most harmonious period in the club’s history.
The sense of negativity – caused largely by consecutive Scottish Cup defeats by Hibs and a disastrous eight months under Ian Cathro – which has swirled around Tynecastle on a fairly regular basis since he arrived from Wigan Athletic on the last day of January 2016, however, hasn’t stopped the veteran midfielder developing a strong bond with the Edinburgh club, and it certainly hasn’t had any impact on his commitment and application levels.
Cowie’s continued dedication and strong leadership amid the adversity that has visited Hearts recently, most notably during Cathro’s recently-ended reign, was rewarded this week when he was given a new contract, tying him to the club until summer 2019. “I was delighted that the club felt the need at this time to extend the deal,” said the 34-year-old. “I’m very thankful to [owner] Ann Budge and [director of football] Craig Levein that they wanted to do that. I’ve really enjoyed my time at the club so it was an easy decision. I’ve loved it. I probably didn’t realise how big a club it was until I got here. It’s been challenging – there’s no denying that. Results haven’t been good enough, but I feel it’s a challenge that I’ve not shied away from. I’ve really tried to stick at it. We’re going through another transitional period and I’m looking forward to the future.
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been the one person who’s played a lot of football in that time. Some people might see that as a negative because of the results but I feel that I’m doing my best to try and help the team. We’re in a situation now where there’s going to be change again at the club but I feel like I can help the young players at the club and I’m loving every minute of it.”
Cowie was viewed as the standard-bearer in the Hearts dressing room last season, with Bjorn Johnsen, who has since departed, explaining in April that the former Scotland, Watford and Cardiff City midfielder was the man the rest of the squad looked to for inspiration when things weren’t going well. Hearts hierarchy have noted Cowie’s influence on the younger players at the club and view him as a man well worth retaining, both for his energy and influence on the pitch, and the good habits he can impart to the next generation, potentially as a coach in the academy.
“I’m not getting any younger but I still feel I’m contributing on the pitch,” he said. “I’m going through my coaching badges just now as well, so it’s good knowing that as well as seeing me as part of the football staff, they’re also encouraging me to look at the coaching side. I’ll be doing a bit of coaching here because it goes hand in hand with my badges but my primary focus is playing. There will come a point when I need to create time to get on the process of doing my badges, whether that’s in the evenings with the academy or whatever.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d have been seen as priority [to get signed up] but I take it as a big compliment. The way I’ve conducted myself since I’ve been at the club, the way I go about my business – I always try and be as professional as I can. When I went to England, there were a lot of experienced players – people like John Eustace, Jobi McAnuff – who you could go to for a bit of advice or to learn from. It’s about setting standards, coming in every day and not fluctuating, trying to be consistent and preparing right. If the younger players can see you doing that, they can take that upon themselves and hopefully it can help them and the team in the long run.”
After an injury-disrupted start to his Hearts career, Cowie started 37 competitive games last season, more than any other outfield player at the club. He will be 36 by the time his new deal expires, but the high-energy box-to-box midfielder is in no mood for slowing down. Asked how long he could keep playing, he said: “I’ve no idea. It’s just a case of going with the flow and seeing how you’re feeling. In two years’ time, you can’t tell how you’ll be physically, but right now I feel really good.
“I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m in my prime because sometimes I still feel stiff a day or two after a game. It probably takes me a bit longer than other players to recover but when it comes round to a game I always feel ready and feel I can help the team. I feel like I’m playing a lot of football and I’m contributing to the team, so as long as I’m doing that, I’ll keep plugging away.”