DESPITE his clear despondency, Dylan McGowan is already planning how to atone for Hearts’ defeat in Sunday’s Scottish Communities League Cup final.
He stressed today that the Riccarton youth academy pupils will be back, older and wiser, at Hampden Park in the future to exorcise the ghosts haunting them following the defeat to St Mirren.
The Australian defender was one of nine players to be reared at Hearts’ youth academy in Gary Locke’s 16-man squad for the final. Others such as Billy King, Callum Tapping, Scott Robinson and Callum Paterson were left in the stand, either injured or not selected. Those involved suffered as a demoralising 3-2 loss saw Hearts fail to secure a second domestic trophy in a year to add to last season’s Scottish Cup.
McGowan and his colleagues intend to use the experience as motivation. Their collective mindset is to ensure they return to the national stadium as quickly as possible and put right what went wrong at the weekend. Hearts have tied up their posse of prodigious youngsters on contract extensions, so next season offers the chance to make amends quickly. That prospect has already been discussed in the dressing-room.
“With all the young boys we’ve got, this is definitely going to act as motivation if we ever get the chance to come back to Hampden,” said McGowan, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I’d expect we will get the chance because we’ve got so many good young players. A lot of them were left out on Sunday for a little bit more experience, which is fair enough. Those players will want the taste of a final. The ones who did taste obviously had a bit of a sour experience, but we want to get back and get our hands on a trophy.
“Everyone will be upset for the next little while, but our job next season is to get back to Hampden and make sure we get our hands on a cup. We have a couple of teenagers and a lot of players under the age of 21 in our squad. To reach a cup final this early is a huge achievement and it’s something we’ll learn from. The next time we’re involved in a big occasion like that, hopefully a lot of us will do a lot better and that might be enough to get over the line.”
On a personal note, Sunday’s defeat acted as a slap in the face to McGowan following two weeks of intense rehabilitation to recover from an ankle injury in time for the final. He sustained the problem against Motherwell on Saturday, March 2, and was told any chance of playing at Hampden had gone.
With the help of medical staff at Riccarton, the 21-year-old showed remarkable courage to recover in time to start at Hampden – only to finish with a loser’s medal. “I put in a lot of effort to try and get myself fit for the final,” he continued. “The physios have done brilliantly to get me back in such a short time.
“I was over the moon to be involved because, when I got injured initially, I was told I definitely had no chance for the final, so it was great to be able to play.
“When you go into a final, all you want to do is win. You don’t care how you play or how the team plays, you just want to take that cup home. We couldn’t do it and that’s massively disappointing. I’m devastated to say the least.
“Initially, we started off well and got the early goal. I thought we were on top for the majority of the second half and had chances to go 2-0 up.
“That would’ve settled everyone’s nerves and given us a foothold in the game. It didn’t come and that’s really been the story of our season so far.
“We start off well, get a goal and then get hit on the counter.
“It’s a bit of a sucker punch for us, although the boys battled to the end and we might have taken it to extra-time.
“Stevo (Ryan Stevenson) hit the post and the bar, but, as a group, we’re just devastated. None of my family from Australia came over, which is probably just as well. Some of my dad’s family (from Glasgow) were at the game and it was good to see them.”
The remainder of the season sees Hearts with little to play for with a top-six place out of reach. Inconsistency has been the theme of their domestic campaign against a backdrop of financial uncertainty with wage delays and unpaid bills. The club will release many high-earning players this summer to reduce their wage bill.
McGowan stressed that pride must be the team’s biggest motivation through to the end of the campaign.
“We have a lot of pride to play for,” he said.
“Hearts is too big a club to be where we are and we need to dig ourselves out of this hole we’re in.
“That’s our aim for the rest of the season. As a group we find ourselves in this position and the players are the only ones who can turn this round.
“The fans can come along and show up to support the team, but they can’t come on the pitch and score goals for us.
“The players have taken on board the fact we need to be higher up the league, so hopefully in the next few weeks we can do that.”