Exclusive: Josh Ginnelly discusses his Hearts future as contract runs down

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A somewhat rejuvenated Josh Ginnelly appears in the corridor at Tynecastle Park. From bit-part player last season to key man this term, the Englishman is visibly more buoyant about his Hearts prospects. He is producing some of his best football but still feels short of absolute peak form. Perhaps that will come between now and summer.

What happens thereafter is unclear. Ginnelly is still only 25 and entitled to wonder where he will ply his trade next year. He is now in the final six months of his Hearts contract and talks on an extension have yet to properly commence. Chat begins on what the future might hold. “I love it here, I love the group and I enjoy coming into training. If it comes, it comes,” he says, admitting he hasn’t got too involved in any discussions. “There have been little things but I don’t really focus on that stuff. That’s why I’ve got an agent because I’d rather focus on getting three points every week than a contract.”

Recent performances in a central attacking role have helped Ginnelly remind Hearts supporters of his capabilities. Self-confidence was never an issue despite him struggling to get into the team last season. The turnaround has been helped by management moving the winger from a natural wide role to try him through the middle. “I’m not surprised. If I start games and I get on the ball, I can hurt teams,” he says. “I’ve never once doubted myself and I think it’s starting to come out a bit more, but I don’t even feel I’m playing at my best. There is a lot more to come.”

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His speed and energy troubled the Hibs defence during Hearts’ 3-0 win in Monday’s New Year Edinburgh derby. Ginnelly’s early shot was parried into Lawrence Shankland’s path for the game’s opening goal, setting the tone for a memorable afternoon. The kind that makes players want to hang around for more. “Hearts is a great club. I’ve been here two and a half years now and I’ve enjoyed every second,” says Ginnelly. “Last season was frustrating but it’s still a great club that is heading in the right direction. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be a part of that.

“That’s the first derby I’ve started. A lot of times when we’ve played Hibs I’ve either been injured or didn’t play. I wanted to get my first real stamp on the derby. We worked hard and probably could have played better but we got a 3-0 win. We did celebrate but not too hard because we have a game on Saturday. Last season, for me, I didn’t feel myself. This year I’m in the team more and I always back myself. In any game I start, I will be involved in something and that has probably been proven now. I just want to keep this form going.”

Much like his manager, Ginnelly has silenced a few critics lately. Robbie Neilson’s tenure at Tynecastle continues to grow in strength with the club once again sitting third in the Premiership table and holding a five-point advantage over Aberdeen and St Mirren in joint-fourth. Those who called for Neilson’s removal at different times over the last two years must surely realise his worth.

“That’s how football can go sometimes,” admits Ginnelly. “I had it a lot last season. Apparently, I was one of the worst players. Clearly not. Credit to Robbie, he has come in and stuck to what he wanted to do and it’s paying off for us. We are playing good football, getting results and we want to keep going.”

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The decision by Neilson and his assistants, Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest, to push Ginnelly high up the middle and drop Lawrence Shankland into a deep-lying forward role has proven a masterstroke so far. Both players are thriving in positions which allow them to exploit their strengths. They have also developed a firm understanding together. “We haven’t had too much of a conversation about it but I think he [Neilson] knows that, if we are set up to get me into areas I am strongest in, there aren’t many people in the league who are going to stop me,” explains Ginnelly. “I think he has analysed that himself with Jig [McCulloch] and Gordy.

Josh Ginnelly's Hearts contract is due to expire this summer.Josh Ginnelly's Hearts contract is due to expire this summer.
Josh Ginnelly's Hearts contract is due to expire this summer.

“In any game I start or come on in, teams will drop five or ten yards because they don’t want me to run in behind them or get into the positions I like. We work on it in training a lot because different teams in the league will set up differently. If I’m playing as a focal point on the shoulder of defenders, it just creates a lot of space. Opponents are worried about the ball going in behind. Obviously we aren’t going to play that all the time but it’s working for the team at the moment. I’m happy to do that job.

“Me and Shanks have a very good relationship. He knows I will try to create space for him but we can also pull people out of position for the likes of Granty [Jorge Grant], Baz [Barrie McKay] and Alan Forrest. Granty came on and got an assist against Hibs. It was a team performance and that got us the three points. This is a very close team. We don’t really watch who is scoring the goals too much. The goalie can score if need be, we don’t care, as long as we win.”