Garang Kuol reveals the euphoria of his first Hearts goal and celebrating with fans at Ibrox
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Amid the euphoria of scoring his first Hearts goal in stoppage-time to earn a draw with Rangers at Ibrox, Garang Kuol felt a strong pang of relief. The Australian loanee prodded the ball into the net and hurdled an advertising board to celebrate with travelling fans from Edinburgh after securing a 2-2 scoreline on Wednesday night. He realised a weight lifting from his slender teenage shoulders.
Kuol will rejoin parent club Newcastle United in July after six months on loan in Edinburgh, an experience he stressed has been worthwhile despite minimal game time. Scoring his first goal in maroon at one of Scotland’s most difficult venues at least gives him a lasting memory to take away. Supporters who joyfully danced with him in that small corner of Ibrox won’t forget it either.
“I just thought: 'Finally!' Obviously it's been a tough period and just to get that goal was like a sigh of relief,” said Kuol, who hugged one Hearts fan as others celebrated around him. “It was a good moment and hopefully the first of many. It just shows perseverance and the hard work I did behind the scenes on the training pitch every day.”
Newcastle sent the prodigious forward to Tynecastle Park in January after signing him on a long-term contract from the Australian club Central Coast Mariners. The English Premier League club hoped he would gain plenty first-team exposure in Scotland, but so far he has managed just one start for Hearts. Wednesday was his eighth appearance for the club.
“People look at the game time as a negative, and obviously it's not ideal,” conceded Kuol. “At the end of the day, what I'm doing in training every day is what makes me a better player. A lot of people look past that, look at the game time and they make it a whole negative story. I'm very happy that I came here, I've met some wonderful people, the coaches, and hopefully I can just keep developing.”
Relationships built within the Riccarton changing room have helped him feel more comfortable. Three of his compatriots, Kye Rowles, Cammy Devlin and Nathaniel Atkinson are Hearts players. “Generally speaking, the lads are very good,” explained Kuol. “They are like brothers, a very tight group. Ultimately, that made it easier to fit in.”
His final Hearts appearance, should he be granted one, will come on Saturday against Hibs in the season’s final Premiership encounter. Avoiding defeat will ensure the Tynecastle side finish fourth and their city counterparts fifth. “The boys have worked hard. Obviously, tough periods come by,” said Kuol. “To be in the position we are in now shows the perseverance that the boys have, especially since Naisy [Steven Naismith] has come in. He has got us working and to finish fourth, I think the boys can hold their heads high.
“We've beaten Hibs two out of three times this season. There have been some convincing wins but the last game of the season, a derby, it's going to be a tough match. The boys are ready, we are focused and we will go out all guns blazing.”