Exclusive: Kye Rowles reveals how Hearts prepared him for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
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Rowles returned on Sunday after more than two months out with a broken foot, playing the last few minutes of Hearts’ pulsating win over Motherwell. He might endure a sleepless night tonight, though. Australia coach Graham Arnold is due to announce his squad for Qatar 2022 at 4pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday, which is 5am in the UK. Rowles and Hearts colleagues Nathaniel Atkinson and Cammy Devlin will be up bright and early to learn their fate.
Hearts physiotherapists and medical staff have nursed all three through injury issues recently, but Rowles caused most concern. He limped off after scoring his first goal in Scotland against St Johnstone back in August and was diagnosed with a fractured bone in his foot. A race for the World Cup was on and Rowles is fit again with just hours to spare. Having missed all of the Europa Conference League Group phase, he needs to play against Rangers and Livingston this week to augment match fitness and help Hearts’ quest to reach third spot before the winter break.
The Edinburgh club are a central reason that the centre-back is even in a position to be considered by Arnold. “They have given me a platform to put myself out there and play with other quality players. That makes me better,” he told the Evening News. “Everyone is pushing each other at training and there is a lot of competition in the squad. They give you the belief that you can compete, not only in the Scottish Premiership but also in Europe. They really push you and let you know you are here for a reason. They have instilled a lot of belief in me, given me the tools to improve and take my game to the next level.
“It’s been a bit of time between drinks, unfortunately. It was great just being back out there on Sunday helping towards a positive result. I didn’t think the injury would be as bad as it was at the start, but the guys have done a very good job getting my back on this timeline. I’m probably a week or two earlier than I should be so I need to keep building now.
“You want to go to a World Cup. This might be the only one I have a chance of playing in. I knew if I could get back playing for Hearts then it would take care of itself. I was focused on getting two or three games in. We will see how this week goes. Arnie is always checking in and he’s always positive. I told him the timeline the physios laid out for me and if I stuck to that it might put me in a good position for the squad. I’ve ticked one [target] off this week and I need to keep ticking them off this week.
“Arnie didn’t set me any specific targets but more minutes would obviously help, just knowing I can get through a full game. The main thing is to make sure I wasn’t limbering around, that I was moving okay and could be myself on the field. That will be the main factor contributing to whether I’m in the squad or not.”
Rowles was a central figure in the Socceroos’ intercontinental play-off win over Peru in June, which secured their place in Qatar. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee him a call-up. Much will depend on what Arnold wants in his defence, with others like Harry Souttar and Ryan McGowan pushing for inclusion. “I would be speechless [if called up]. You dream of this as a kid,” said Rowles. “Being an Aussie, seeing the 2006 World Cup qualifier when [John] Aloisi scored the pen, that was our first World Cup in 30 years. That set me on the path. I thought: ‘I want to be at a World Cup like these guys.’ It would be amazing – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This was the main attraction coming here, to get in the spotlight more. Before the injury I was in good stead. Hopefully all three Aussies here have a good crack. I’ve got my fingers crossed for all of us.”
His next club assignment is fast approaching over the horizon. Regardless of his World Cup fate, Rowles and Hearts travel to Ibrox on Wednesday night to meet a rather stuttering Rangers side. Manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst is under pressure following just one win in the last five games. Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at St Johnstone leaves the Glasgow club little room for error against Hearts.
“I was very excited going to Celtic Park, regardless of what the boys were saying about what they dealt with in the past. That and Ibrox are the two you really want to tick off in Scotland so I’m looking forward to it,” explained Rowles. “I’ll be ready to play if I’m called upon. If I’m lucky enough to start I’ll push myself to the limit. We dug deep on Sunday and we will do it again on Wednesday. I’m feeling good, feeling strong and fit. I’ve had a few training sessions and done a lot of running. My foot feels fine so I’m ready.”