Exclusive: Peter Haring reveals Hearts' season aims but antics of St Johnstone's Steven MacLean can't be printed

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Austrian midfielder is now the longest serving player at Tynecastle Park

Peter Haring enters his sixth season in Scotland as Hearts’ longest-serving player. It is testament to his character, resilience and consistency that he is still considered an integral figure at Tynecastle Park. He knows exactly what is required, starting tomorrow when the 2023/24 Premiership campaign begins against St Johnstone in Perth.

The amiable Austrian has lived in this country through a global health pandemic, three Hearts managerial changes, an enforced relegation and some extremely debilitating injuries which might have finished the careers of players of lesser substance. Yet he is fit and raring to go once again.

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Haring turned 30 in June. The excitement is still there ahead of the opening league game but he has more than just Premiership business in mind. “We have our first European game coming up next week,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview. “It will be difficult. We got a taste for the group stages last year and we want that again. We feel that, whoever we were to play in this round and the next if we get there, it’s doable.

“We need to be ready. Europe is obviously a big target for Hearts, and also finishing third in the Premiership. It’s important to finish above the teams who are normally round about you. For us, that is Aberdeen and Hibs. I think you can see that they have been closest to us in the last few years. It will most likely be like that again this season, but you never know.

“Another club can have a good season and climb the league to challenge for third place, so it is possible. We have to take care of ourselves and make sure our results and performances are good.”

That is the challenge tomorrow against a wounded St Johnstone side unceremoniously dumped out of the Viaplay Cup a matter of days ago. Manager Steven MacLean is a former Hearts team-mate of Haring’s who endured criticism for Saints’ three defeats from four games against lower-league opposition in the tournament.

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Haring recalls their time together at Riccarton fondly. Both arrived in summer 2018 and were team-mates for 18 months until MacLean was loaned to Raith Rovers. He then retired to begin his coaching career with St Johnstone. “He was one of the main people in our dressing room. He joined Hearts when I did and he was here for one and a half years,” said Haring.

Hearts midfielder Peter Haring is about to start his sixth season in Scotland. Pic: SNSHearts midfielder Peter Haring is about to start his sixth season in Scotland. Pic: SNS
Hearts midfielder Peter Haring is about to start his sixth season in Scotland. Pic: SNS

“He was a great character and I had a brilliant relationship with him. He showed a lot of leadership in that team and I enjoyed playing with him.” MacLean doesn’t lack motivation or drive at any time, and certainly didn’t in a Hearts jersey despite being in the twilight of his career. There is also a more jovial side to his nature which showed frequently each day at Riccarton. Some of his antics simply aren’t for a family newspaper, though. “Yeah, there are a few memories but nothing you could put in the press,” laughed Haring.

Michael Smith’s exit from Tynecastle in May left Haring as the longest-serving Hearts player in terms of continued seasons. Craig Gordon, of course, has spent a greater amount of time with the club overall given his two spells there. Haring is happy simply to continue as he was and does not attach any particular importance to succeeding Smith.

“It’s nice. I wouldn’t say it really changes anything for me,” he admitted. “I still try to do my best like before and I want to do that this season. I wouldn’t say I feel pride, I’m just happy that I have played consistently in Scotland and managed to keep playing at Hearts. It shows that I’m happy here and I have always been happy here.”

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His role in central midfield is a crucial one given his experience. Whether partnered by Cammy Devlin, recent signing Calem Nieuwenhof, Andy Halliday or a surprise selection tomorrow, Haring carries the required expertise to anchor midfield and control the game. Hearts are without the suspended Alex Cochrane tomorrow and there is a doubt over Beni Baningime’s fitness. Liam Boyce is back training and his availability is a significant boost to the forward line.

St Johnstone’s motivation to atone for their League Cup disappointment will be enormous. MacLean was only appointed manager in May and would have been desperate for a more encouraging start to life as his own man in the dugout. Hearts arrive with their own issues to attend to in Perth. Last December’s 3-2 victory was their first league win away at St Johnstone for 12 years.

As with most other Gorgie-related issues, Haring has been around the scene long enough to understand the landscape. “I'm aware of St Johnstone’s results in the Viaplay Cup and that they haven't been good enough. I know it's competitive games, but they are very early in the season so it's difficult to say how they will do in the league,” he pointed out.

“We certainly won't be taking them lightly. Our record at McDiarmid Park in the last few years isn't great so we know it will be tough up there. I am looking forward to another season. It doesn’t matter how long you have been in the game or what club you are with, you always get that excitement when a new season is starting. Hopefully we can make it a successful one for Hearts and enjoy it as much as possible.”