Sheltered indoors at a blustery Tynecastle Park, Don Cowie is ready for the winds of change in Gorgie. Eight new signings have joined Hearts so far ahead of a predicted punishing pre-season programme starting next Thursday. The midfielder agrees that a new approach and fresh personnel are necessary.
Hearts suffered last season because they were not fit enough from the off. Added to that was the fact manager Craig Levein, who replaced Ian Cathro last August, inherited players largely recruited by his predecessor. This time it’s different.
Levein has brought in Zdenek Zlamal, Ben Garuccio, Olly Lee, Bobby Burns, Ryan Edwards, Jake Mulraney, Uche Ikpeazu and Steven MacLean, with the promise of more to follow. Cowie is relishing the anticipated rejuvenation in the dressing room.
“There was a lot of negativity in the press 12 months ago and it was hard to shake that off,” admitted the 35-year-old midfielder. “We went into the season and had a really poor run in the [League] Cup. It wasn’t good enough and then Ian loses his job. It’s totally different now. The manager is more experienced and knows where he wants his team to be and how he wants them to play.
“He came in at short notice so it’s been tough to work on that. There will be no excuses now for us not to know what he wants.”
When Levein took charge he immediately tried to address the sub-standard conditioning. “He wanted to work us a bit harder. Then you get a couple of injuries because it’s a different regime, a different intensity of training. Then he has to come off the gas a wee bit because he realises that you can’t do it or we will have no team because of the injuries. It’s a vicious circle. There is no excuse now. We’ve got a full pre-season.
“The game’s evolving, it’s changing, people have different opinions. They maybe think it’s not as ‘old school’, where it was just a case of running and working extremely hard. Ian is entitled to have his opinion on the way he sees fit to have a pre-season. I just felt that it was definitely not as intense as I have experienced in my career.”
Indications are that this summer will more than atone. “We weren’t fit enough. It wasn’t a demanding enough pre-season last year,” admitted Cowie. “That’s just a manager’s preference. Ian, maybe from the continental side, went for a different approach. We’re fully aware what we’re going to get next week. It’s going to be tough and hard. That’s all I’ve known throughout my career. It will be no surprise really. We’ve just got to get through it.”
Squad overhauls have been all too common in recent seasons at Tynecastle. A total of 31 players were recruited over the previous four transfer windows dating back to summer 2016. Cowie feels another major revamp was unavoidable, however.
“It needed to happen because the manager needed to get his own players into the club,” he said.
“A lot of young boys came in last season and did extremely well, but they’re still learning. Maybe the manager won’t need to throw as many in at the same time now.
“If they’re doing well in training and performing, he has shown he won’t hesitate to play them. Maybe he can just dip them in and out a bit more than he was able to last season.”
With no distractions such as a main stand rebuild, playing at BT Murrayfield or a managerial change, Cowie is keen to see how Hearts fare.
“The stability is there. The club has spent an awful lot of money on a new pitch. It had to get done so they have dug deep to make sure that they do it right. We have no excuses. We will have probably one of the best playing surfaces in the country.
“We have played at Murrayfield and it is going to be similar to that. That will be another great thing for the club to have. The stadium is just getting better and better. It takes time but it is all coming together. We just need to do it on the pitch now.”