Exclusive Garang Kuol interview: Australian striker talks Hearts, pressure, game time and Newcastle

Suspicions are that Garang Kuol is just waiting to fully ignite. A prodigious 18-year-old Australian talent, Hearts have yet to see proper flames from him since signing a loan deal with Newcastle United last month.
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Four substitute appearances so far offered only brief opportunities to find rhythm. Kuol's only start came in an unfamiliar midfield role against Rangers. For a striker whose pace is described as “blistering” by Riccarton coaching staff, there have been merely momentary glimpses of his true capabilities.

Newcastle sent him north to learn first-team British football in a competitive environment after signing the teenager from Central Coast Mariners in his homeland. The idea is that he should adjust to the game in this country before returning to St James’ Park in the summer a more rounded footballer.

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Kuol seems to revel in the demands placed upon him despite the obvious lack of experience. He conveys the impression of someone confident of proving himself and justifying the increasing hype which surrounds him, although he is far from daunted by it. He knows he is hot property despite not yet catching fire in Scotland. What he needs is a run of games to gain momentum and produce meaningful rather than fleeting contributions to the second half of Hearts’ season.

Garang Kuol is hoping for more game time at Hearts.Garang Kuol is hoping for more game time at Hearts.
Garang Kuol is hoping for more game time at Hearts.

Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, the diminutive forward said he would like more minutes but acknowledged that only he can earn it. “Yeah, 100 per cent. It’s up to me and what I do in training. I’m going to keep working hard in training to put pressure on the gaffer. The aim is to get a start, try to start well and then keep starting. The manager has told me to work hard every day to put pressure on him and the other strikers in my position.”

A first goal would obviously help his cause. He is competing against the experience of Lawrence Shankland, Stephen Humphrys, Josh Ginnelly and Yutaro Oda for an attacking slot. “I feel, when I come on, regardless of where I play, I should be able to create something. That’s all that matters. I’ve had opportunities [to score] so it’s just about keeping knocking on the door,” said the player.

He has joined a club harbouring lofty ambitions for the next few months. Hearts aim to finish third and qualify for European football come May and, if possible, lift the Scottish Cup at Hampden Park on June 3. Manager Robbie Neilson constantly reiterates the need for a winning mentality at Riccarton to achieve the above.

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“It’s great because I want to win as well. That’s all there is to it,” said Kuol. Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Motherwell was a slightly unexpected slip-up after what was a positive run of form since the World Cup break ended. With no game this weekend, there is time to iron out a few deficiencies and for Neilson to reinforce his message.

Livingston's Nicky Devlin stops Garang Kuol as the speedy hearts sub advances towards goal. The Australian's pace caused Livi problems. Picture: Ross Parker / SNSLivingston's Nicky Devlin stops Garang Kuol as the speedy hearts sub advances towards goal. The Australian's pace caused Livi problems. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS
Livingston's Nicky Devlin stops Garang Kuol as the speedy hearts sub advances towards goal. The Australian's pace caused Livi problems. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS

“The boys are going to work hard in training, see what the problem has been and focus on what is going to help us get back to winning ways,” said Kuol. “Of course we are still in a good position but we want to be winning every week. That’s the goal. I think the gaffer is going to keep hammering us to keep that winning mentality.

“The gaffer has huge demands. That’s a good thing for us as a team. He wants to instill this winning mentality into us, and the boys have it as well. For him to keep putting those demands on us is what the team needs.”

The striker was introduced as a substitute on 60 minutes at Fir Park with Hearts already 2-0 down. It was a substantial task to expect him to overturn that deficit. “I think we were making very basic mistakes and we were very inconsistent with our performance,” he observed. “With the little mistakes, Motherwell were able to get momentum. I’d say it was difficult but in the second half we had the ball a fair bit and we were able to make a couple of decent chances. I feel, if we were to get one in the second half, the game would have been different.”

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Overall, Kuol describes the Edinburgh experience as positive. Two years ago he was still in a high school classroom about to explode into the Australian A-League. Now he finds himself on the other side of the globe, idolised in his native country, a World Cup Socceroo, owned by an English Premier League club and playing for one of the biggest teams in Scotland. It has been quite a transformation.

“It’s good, I’m training every day and that’s what I dreamed of doing since I was a kid. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. As long as I’m doing that, I’m happy,” he said, clearly content to underplay the rapid rise to prominence. His ability, in time, will shine through. Scottish football can enhance that development.

“The level of players here are better, my team-mates are better,” said Kuol. “It’s really good and I’m loving it. The boys are all a good bunch of guys. They are all supporting me and there is good camaraderie.”

And Newcastle will be watching. “Yeah, of course. You get contact from the guys down there saying “good luck” and stuff like that. It’s good and encouraging that they are keeping an eye on what I’m doing.”

He hopes to be doing a lot more of it over the coming weeks and months. If Hearts can find the catalyst to help Kuol catch fire, the flames could end up spreading right across the country.