Finlay Pollock exclusive: Choosing Hearts over Hibs and the Eden Hazard factor
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The 18-year-old only played the final ten minutes as substitute but was the catalyst for Lawrence Shankland’s ultimately match-winning second goal in Saturday’s final summer friendly. The irony is, he shouldn’t really have been at Tynecastle Park to begin with.
Pollock would have played for Hearts B team in their opening Lowland League win against Berwick Rangers but for a suspension carrying over from last season. He made the most of rare first-team exposure by creating that decisive chance for Shankland in a 2-1 victory.
A headed interception by Pollock inside his own half initiated a Hearts move down the right, Stoke regained possession but the teenager quickly won the ball back again.
He stole in front of Josh Tymon and then skipped away from Ben Wilmot – two established English Championship defenders – before a cutback for Shankland to score at the second attempt.
The midfielder is trying manfully to establish himself in a senior group already full of talent and with more no signings to come. If it is a daunting task, he is clearly determined not to feel intimidated.
“Hearts is a great place to try and make a name for yourself if you can play in the first team each week. I’ll be trying to get in the matchday squads and get minutes towards the end of games like I did against Stoke. Hopefully, as the season goes on, maybe I can get a couple of starts,” he told the Evening News.
“It is a lot to ask but obviously there are loads of games to be played. It is a really good squad, full of high quality, so just testing myself against the best in training is good for me. I just think it’s important to keep playing against adults, that’s the main thing.
“I’m just glad the manager is giving me chances to get minutes at the end of games. It builds my experience playing with men and it’s a much higher standard than youth football. It’s more physical as well so it’s great to get involved.
“Stoke were a big physical side. I played in the B team against Arsenal recently as well and you can see the English teams are big and strong. It’s great to test yourself against big teams from down south.”
Pollock's assurance and confidence during conversation belies his age. He speaks with admirable composure in his first proper media interview and acknowledges that his role this season will likely be a hybrid one between B team and first team.
Discussions with manager Robbie Neilson have confirmed as much. “I’ll be involved in first-team training, trying to improve myself each day and push for a first-team spot. If I need minutes I can play in the B team, which is good since it’s still adult football.
“I think I’ll be involved with the B team and first team. It’s adult football either way. Last year I was with the under-18s and went on loan to East Fife in the second half of the season. Adult football is just the best thing because it’s more demanding.”
The breakthrough into senior football first came for Pollock in April 2021 as he emerged from the Hearts youth team. A decision he made ten years ago whilst still in primary school became something of a sliding doors moment.
Faced with offers to join the youth academies of both Hearts and Hibs, he didn’t need time to deliberate. “I’ve been a Hearts fan my whole life so it’s really special for me to play for Hearts. I just have to pinch myself because I love this club and it’s what I want to do,” said the player.
“I joined the academy very young. I had the option to join Hibs or Hearts and obviously I chose Hearts straight away. They are my boyhood team, my whole family supports them.
“I think I was about eight at the time. It was a big decision at that age but for us it was easy because we’re all Hearts fans. I can’t even remember who broke the news to Hibs, it was so long ago.”
Since then, one particular Belgian talisman has had a telling influence on the young midfielder. “When I was really young I’d watch Eden Hazard – someone who can drift off the left and play in that No.10 position. He gets on the ball and does those little half-turns, so it was definitely him I liked.
“I really liked his style of play and he was kind of similar to me growing up. He could play off the left, off the right, or in the No.10 position. I just modelled myself on him and copied what he did. I can play on the right or as a No.10 and I like them both equally. Sometimes I like drifting off the left and I can also play in the centre.”
He credits his Mum and Dad for keeping him grounded and instilling a necessary work ethic to help his chosen profession. The endeavour to win possession twice and create that opening against Stoke proved the young kid is listening to parents and coaches alike.
“My Mum and Dad tell me always to work my hardest. If things aren’t going well, you still work hard. If things are going well, you still work hard. They instilled that in me,” he said.
“Here, Steven Naismith has been the B team coach and he's looked after me. Jig [Lee McCulloch] and Gordy [Forrest] have done wee bits of extra work with me in their spare time after training as well. It has all helped.”