Exclusive: Hearts' Odel Offiah speaks for the first time about his health scare - and binning all his green clothes

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The Brighton and Hove Albion defender is learning fast after arriving on loan at Tynecastle

If Brighton and Hove Albion dispatched Odel Offiah on loan to Hearts under instruction to learn the senior game, they can rest assured the ploy is working. David Weir, technical director of the English Premier League club and a former Tynecastle defender, believed Gorgie was a useful destination for 20-year-old Offiah to take the next step in his career. He was correct.

To his credit, the player quickly overcame a health scare last month to regain a place in Hearts’ starting line-up. A goal on his debut, two European outings and digesting the intense demand for league points all amounts to decent experience from seven appearances so far. Then there is the really important stuff, like not wearing green clothes. And certainly not in the week of an Edinburgh derby against Hibs.

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“It’s a big rivalry and, when I came up here, that’s the first thing you are told: ‘Don’t wear green’,” smiled the imposing Offiah, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I did listen. I haven’t worn green. All my green stuff got chucked out.

“I would love to be involved on Saturday. Hopefully I will start or at least be able to play a part. I haven’t been involved in a game like this before, really. I’ve been on the bench a few times for Brighton games against Crystal Palace [the historic M23 derby]. A derby is a derby and everyone is going to be fired up. That’s what football is for, really.

“It’s definitely different here, more physical. The game is obviously a lot quicker. I play different football so I’m trying to teach some of the others about my football and trying to learn about their football. Then you can create something new. The ball is in the air more but it’s just getting used to that. I think that is really good for my game.

“This is the first environment I’ve been in where you have to win, you have to get the three points. That’s important in itself – learning to fight for the three points in every game.”

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Sporting competition paled into insignificance early last month when Offiah was rushed to hospital after taking ill at Hearts’ Riccarton training base. After treatment, he returned to Brighton for assessment. They oversaw the defender’s medical care as the parent club and quickly he was back in Scotland ready to resume his loan spell.

Hearts defender Odel Offiah is preparing to face Hibs this weekend at Tynecastle. Pic: SNSHearts defender Odel Offiah is preparing to face Hibs this weekend at Tynecastle. Pic: SNS
Hearts defender Odel Offiah is preparing to face Hibs this weekend at Tynecastle. Pic: SNS

Offiah explained that the health scare also helped his learning process. The resilience to overcome setbacks, be they physical or mental, is another key aspect of top-level sport. “It’s all good now. It was just a general check-up, just making sure,” he said. “I’ve had a few issues in the past year so it was just a check-up to make sure everything is okay. It came back all good. It’s a private matter but it was pretty much just a little incident in training. It’s fine and I feel back to normal.

“It’s life. You are going to have many setbacks in football and in life. It’s a case of: ‘Can you get over the setback and come back even stronger?’ It’s important to have setbacks and to overcome them. I’ve been playing football my whole life so, once you get back into the swing of things, it moves pretty quickly. I feel comfortable, I feel good, I will continue trying to get in the team and stay in the team here.”

He returned to Hearts’ startling line-up on Saturday after a productive cameo role in last week’s Viaplay Cup win at Kilmarnock. It was Offiah’s clever ball to Lawrence Shankland which led to Alex Lowry’s dramatic winning goal in stoppage-time at Rugby Park. The Englishman again lined up at right wing-back in the weekend’s 1-0 Premiership victory at Ross County.

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“I’m just trying to keep learning,” he remarked. “I played a different position at wing-back. I rarely played there before because I’m normally used more as a centre-back. As a young player, it’s good to learn different positions. It makes you more accessible to the manager.

“We had to be patient and just wait for the chance to come at Ross County. It was a great cross from Alex and a great header from Alan Forrest to get us three points. We just kept playing because we had been training all week to play our own football. We had to be confident in our ability and then the goal came.”

Winning away at Kilmarnock and County in the space of a few days imbues Hearts with vital confidence entering Saturday’s derby. They had won only one match in six prior to the cup tie in East Ayrshire, but two results on the road lifted the mood and they are now preparing back at base. Hibs visit Tynecastle in good fettle themselves, winning two and drawing two of new head coach Nick Montgomery’s four matches in charge to date.

Offiah offered a dressing-room insight from the last few weeks, explaining how disappointing form did not result in despondency. “The dressing room has always been positive. When results weren’t going our way, the dressing room was even better with everyone pushing to get us all going and try to get the results.

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“Winning games back-to-back is important, especially two away victories. Going away to Kilmarnock and Ross County and winning is even more sweet. It’s about trying to get that momentum to push on to this week’s derby.”