Aidan Keena has become something of a superhero at Queen’s Park with eight goals in 11 games. Supporters of a club nicknamed after insects are captivated by a real-life Spiderman galvanising their League One relegation fight. However, the 18-year-old loanee returns to Hearts in June intent on growing into a darling of the Tynecastle support.
Manager Craig Levein revealed on these pages last month that Keena will be promoted to the first-team squad for pre-season training. The young Irish striker is determined to bring his rich form back with him from Hampden Park and push for regular senior football in Edinburgh.
His scoring exploits have boosted Queen’s Park’s hopes of staying up, although that task is far from complete. The next assignment is slightly more daunting. Signed from Republic of Ireland club St Patrick’s Athletic last summer, Keena knows the Ladbrokes Premiership will be gruelling.
“I read what Craig Levein said and, if that happens, great. If not, I’m going to have to keep working until it does,” said Keena, whose only Hearts appearance so far was as a substitute against Partick Thistle last November. “It’s going to be a big pre-season and hopefully I can make an impression, then stick around to play in the first team next season rather than going out on loan again.
“When I first signed, I wouldn’t have expected to be near the first team so quickly. I’ve done well at Queen’s Park so I’m hoping I do get a chance. If I do, I hope I can take it. Playing for Queen’s Park is a lot better than playing under-20 football. You’re playing against some 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds so it’s good to come up against experienced men every week.
“I could’ve gone to Edinburgh City on loan and played there, but Hampden was a factor. That’s why I went to Queen’s Park. I was getting the chance to play at Hampden regularly and they were one league further up as well. I thought I might not get the chance to play at Hampden again so I may as well take it while I have it.”
The loan has gone considerably better than he or anyone else could have expected.
“I’ve been chatting to Andy Kirk, the Hearts Under-20 coach. He’s probably the one I’m closest to. He’s just basically told me to keep it up for as long as I can. He said to me: ‘As long as you’re scoring goals, people have to notice you.’
The Hearts fans certainly have noticed and are already getting excited about the prospect of seeing Keena in maroon next year.
“I just take that with a pinch of salt,” he said. “Next week it could be somebody else scoring a few goals and then everybody would be looking at him. I brush it off. It’s obviously good that they are watching and hopefully I do become a player they can watch more regularly.
“All the young lads feel they might get a chance if they work hard. Hearts is a good place to be just now because the youth players are being given chances. You don’t usually see so many young players coming in at once. None of us are big time. It’s great to see all the other boys playing for the first team.
“I wouldn’t say I’m jealous but I’d love to be in there this season. I’m out on loan and that’s probably better because I wouldn’t really be getting much game time at Hearts. That’s something I want for next season.”
He will give himself every chance if he can get anywhere close to his Queen’s Park goalscoring ratio. “The plan was that I would stay at Hearts and maybe go out on loan next season. This is only my first year,” explained Keena.
“I wasn’t full-time at home because I was still at school. Coming over here, I’ve developed physically and I’m more confident as well because I’m getting ballwork every day. I do feel I’m a better player.
“Hearts were chatting to an agent in Ireland asking if he knew of any strikers. He represented a few lads in my team. He recommended me to Jon Daly [Hearts first-team coach] and I came over on trial. I scored in a pre-season game [against Dalkeith] and did well in training and they wanted to sign me.
“I was playing for the Under-20s and Queen’s Park just came up in January. Jon asked me: ‘Do you want to go?’ I thought it would be good because I was only training with the first team at Hearts. I wasn’t playing often.
“It was an opportunity to show Craig what I can do. I got a little bit of first-team experience at home with St Pat’s but I didn’t play much with them. The loan was a chance for me and I’m lucky it’s worked. It was tough at first, I didn’t really know where the goals were going to come from. Then I started getting chances and every chance I got seemed to just go in.
“Queen’s Park want me to stretch teams and get in behind, which I’m suited to doing. I have a bit of pace and some of the defenders are not the quickest. I work hard off the ball and I try to get in behind when we’re on the ball. When I get in, I’m looking at the goal. I’ve scored most of my Queen’s Park goals from outside the box. Before I went there I was more of a penalty-box player but I’m starting to add a few from further out.”
If he can do the same in Scotland’s top flight, this Spiderman’s homecoming promises to be a Tynecastle Box Office hit.