Exclusive: Aidan Denholm reveals the inside story on his Hearts exit, trial in England, call to return and European debut

Teenager tells the fascinating story of redemption
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For a 19-year-old with only a handful of Hearts first-team appearances, Aidan Denholm speaks like a seasoned veteran. Confident, articulate, engaging, the midfielder answers media questions with the same ease as his European debut last week in Trondheim.

Denholm’s story is fascinating and he is more than happy to tell it. One of five youngsters released by Hearts in June, he defiantly continued training alone at Riccarton every day. A trial at Wigan Athletic was interrupted by a phonecall from Tynecastle’s newly-appointed technical director Steven Naismith offering the player another opportunity at the club he joined aged eight and has supported since childhood. He dealt with that question appropriately, too. Those daily summer sweat sessions had paid off handsomely.

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“I was with the B team last year and played under Naisy, but I was one of the five boys who were let go,” recalled Denholm in an exclusive Evening News interview. “I just kept ticking away, doing my extra work and trying to stay focused. When I was told I was leaving, it was hard to take at first because I had been at Hearts for so long.

“I always do extra work in the morning and Naisy sees that. Then I went on loan to East Fife, who are part-time, so I was still coming into the training ground every day – even on days off. Naisy was like, ‘take the day off,’ and I was like, ‘nah, I want to come in and do more.

“When I was down south on trial at Wigan, we just had a conversation. When Naisy got the technical director job, he said: ‘We believe in you and we can see talent so we are just going to give you another chance to kick on.’

“Pre-season was a real eye-opener. I did quite well in most of the games I played in. When you get the chance, you have to take it. I kept working and working. I was on the bench against St Johnstone for the first league game and I was hoping the chance would come. Then I got it in Norway and I hope I took it.”

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He did. After replacing Cammy Devlin on 71 minutes, a combination of energy, composure on the ball and intelligent reading of the game helped ease Denholm into a difficult tie in Rosenborg’s Lerkendal Stadion. Lawrence Shankland’s late header gives Hearts a fighting chance at 2-1 down entering Thursday’s second leg of the Europa Conference League third qualifying round.

Hearts midfielder Aidan Denholm has an outside chance of a starting place against Rosenborg. Pic: SNSHearts midfielder Aidan Denholm has an outside chance of a starting place against Rosenborg. Pic: SNS
Hearts midfielder Aidan Denholm has an outside chance of a starting place against Rosenborg. Pic: SNS

“I didn’t really expect to get on but you prepare as best you can,” smiled Denholm. “When I was told to warm up, I was just as focused as I could be and tried to take the chance when it came. At first there were a wee bit of nerves but you just try to remain calm. You think about what you did in training and what has got you to that point.

“I was really delighted with how it went. We got a good goal as well, which keeps us in the tie. The atmosphere was great. I’ve never really played in front of a crowd like that before. I was trying to soak everything up. It’s something new for me but hopefully it’s the first of many European appearances for me. I’d also like a few more at Tynecastle.”

Family are understandably overjoyed at his ability to grasp an unexpected second chance in a maroon jersey. It is, after all, pretty much unheard of for a club to publicly announce the release of several players in June and then re-sign one of them within a fortnight. The others – Arron Darge, Leo Watson, Cammy Logan, and Scott McGill – all headed for pastures new.

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“It was quite surreal for me. I had a few trials down south. As soon as I got talking to Naisy, I wanted to stay. I spoke to my family and that was exactly what I wanted to do. As soon as I heard from Hearts I was straight there. It’s all turned out pretty well but I just need to stay focused.”

Hearts forward Liam Boyce with young midfielder Aidan Denholm. Pic: SNSHearts forward Liam Boyce with young midfielder Aidan Denholm. Pic: SNS
Hearts forward Liam Boyce with young midfielder Aidan Denholm. Pic: SNS

If he plays continues playing with the same authority as he talks, that won’t be an issue. Perhaps the second chance reiterated what Denholm needed to make the grade. He would tell you himself he isn’t there yet and, like any teenager, is still very much at the developmental phase of his career. Still, developing in the Hearts first team and getting game time against a reputable European side like Rosenborg can’t be bad.

“I’m a Hearts supporter so this is the icing on the cake. All my family are Hearts fans and they were watching last week’s game back home with my Grandma and Grandad,” he said. “I had a few pals in the crowd so I was delighted with it all-round. Hopefully we can get a full crowd at Tynecastle for the second leg and get everyone backing us. Making my European debut was difficult to take in at the time but it started to sink in once I got back home.”

Discussions with Naismith have centred around the youngster’s dynamic approach. He has an outside chance of claiming a starting slot against Rosenborg on Thursday with Peter Haring nursing an injury. “Naisy saw glimpses of what I can bring with the B team. It’s probably my energy and a cool head as well. For me age, I feel I can try to dictate a game. I always try to get about the pitch.”