Dylan McGowan is viewing this season as an opportunity to finally emerge from his big brother’s significant shadow.
The 21-year-old Australian hasn’t found it easy making his breakthrough at a club where his sibling Ryan, a mere two years older, wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the most iconic figures of the modern era.
By the end of his first full season in the Hearts first team, Ryan, then aged just 22, had written himself into the club’s folklore after scoring in the 5-1 Scottish Cup final demolition of Hibs a year past May.
Curiously, Dylan has already made more appearances for Hearts than his elder brother had racked up by this stage in his career, but there remains a feeling, much to his chagrin, that he is still better known for being Ryan’s brother rather than for his own accomplishments.
Before he made his own breakthrough, “Baby Gowser”, as Ryan affectionately tagged him, watched on as his brother took all the acclaim from starstruck supporters. Then when he eventually made it into the first team last season, Dylan found he was often compared to his brother. Incidentally, in his farewell interview with the Evening News, as he jetted out to China in January, Ryan pleaded with supporters not to put unfair expectations on his brother.
Even though he has been away from Tynecastle for seven months now, Ryan retains an unbreakable bond with Hearts, to the extent where he recently bought ten season tickets – five adults and five kids – to help save his old club. Dylan loves the fact his brother is still revered at Tynecastle, but, as he prepares for a season which will see him guaranteed a prominent role, he senses a chance to finally start making a name for himself.
“All that sort of stuff [buying season tickets etc] he’s given me no chance, has he? He labelled me ‘Baby Gowser’ and everything,” he says, with a smile. “I’d just rather be remembered for putting on good performances. They can call me whatever they want but I’d just rather go about my business and be left alone.
“My brother’s moved on now, although I think a lot of the fans are still getting to grips with the fact that he’s moved on. It’s not my main aim to overtake him as a cult hero. The fans love him, which is great, but I’d just rather be playing every week. If I can get by just doing my business without anyone giving me too much hassle I’ll be happy.
“I had enough bother when I was with him at Nando’s and things like that, I hardly got to eat my chicken. I was behind the camera, everyone wanted a picture of him. He was obviously a fans’ favourite, and they love him, and I’m happy for him.
“I think there’s a little bit more pressure on me than other players coming through, just because Ryan had a good season, but I can’t be too worried about that. I’m not going to go around copying everything he did for the rest of my life. Next time I score a goal, I’m going to have to just stand still and not celebrate, just to make sure everyone knows I’m a different person!”
Dylan is hoping he doesn’t have to follow Ryan in being shunted from his favoured central position to right-back in order to establish himself. Ryan grew up as a central midfielder, then came through as a centre-back, but ended up making his name at Hearts as a marauding right-back. Dylan has also featured there this pre-season and in last season’s League Cup final, and, with Jamie Hamill being primed for a central midfield slot, there is a chance McGowan will be asked to step into the right-back void once again for the trip to St Johnstone on Sunday.
“Hopefully I won’t be playing right-back this season,” he says. “I’d rather play centre-back and if needs must centre midfield. I’m not very confident at right-back, but if I play there I’ll play there, obviously. I’ll do whatever it takes to get on the pitch. Just because Ryan was a good right-back doesn’t make me one – but I’m a much better centre-back than him anyway!”
Despite the 15-point penalty with which Hearts will start the season, McGowan is full of optimism. “Pre-season has been good so far,” he said. “I’ve played every minute of every game, and the team’s looking good. In the whole of pre-season all you want to do is get to the first game and that’s coming this weekend, so everyone’s pretty excited.
“Everyone’s written us off already, so there’s no real pressure on us. We’ll be looking to just go out and enjoy ourselves, and hopefully wins will come. The way we’ve played in pre-season gives us more hope we can haul back the 15 points. Against all the teams we’ve played we’ve competed, bar the first game [against Dinamo Bucharest], which was our first game back and there was a lot of travelling on the day of the game. In-house, we definitely feel we can [stay up]. I think everyone is really up for it.”