Garang Kuol speaks on 'unreal' Hearts support, Robbie Neilson's promise and Eddie Howe's advice

A diminutive stature and fleeting debut shouldn’t fool anybody. Garang Kuol will play a big part in the second half of Hearts’ season. He is merely being fed into the team gently as an 18-year-old from the other side of the world.

The little Australian forward managed the final 13 minutes against St Mirren on Friday night after signing on loan from Newcastle United 24 hours previously. His highlight being a sprint forward and slide pass to Stephen Humphrys for a late chance which was somehow squandered. Thankfully for Hearts, Barrie McKay’s terrific first-half strike was enough to secure victory.

“The atmosphere was nice and the fans were amazing,” said Kuol. “It was a good win for the boys. The support was unreal and I’d like to thank the fans for coming out. They gave the boys a push and it was a nice, hard-fought win. It’s a special crowd and when you get an atmosphere like that, with people supporting you, it lifts you up.”

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Kuol wasn’t short of loan suitors this month but three Australian World Cup colleagues in the Riccarton squad, plus some enticement from manager Robbie Neilson, worked in Hearts’ favour. “It was the gaffer’s desire to help me develop,” explained Kuol. “Hearts is a great club and I thought this was the best place to be for my development. There are a great bunch of lads here and I thought this was the best decision for me.

“Cam [Devlin] is top player, [Kye] Rowlesy as well and Nathaniel [Atkinson]. Seeing the quality that they have gives me confidence to come in and do the same. Lawrence Shankland is a top striker and I am happy to have him by my side. There is a lot I can learn from him.”

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe effectively left the final loan decision up to Kuol having bought him from Central Coast Mariners on January 1. “I had small discussion with him and he said: ‘Go wherever you’ll play the most.’ Development is key for young players. The gaffer here [Neilson] convinced me to come because he said he’ll play me. All he said I need to do is work hard. The gaffer told me he’ll bring me off the bench and then gradually I have to work my way into the starting XI."

Don’t bet against him doing just that in time for Sunday’s eagerly-awaited Scottish Cup tie against Hibs at Easter Road. First, there is Wednesday night’s league visit from Aberdeen. It is a lot for young Kuol to adapt to just a few weeks since representing Australia at Qatar 2022. He explained why he is trying not to look back and get caught up in the moment too much.

“I’m just trying to focus on the future, playing and training well every week. That’s the main focus. Sometimes I’m sitting and thinking: ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here’. It’s just surreal and I just have to thank God.”

Garang Kuol is already enjoying his experience on loan at Hearts.

Hearts (3-5-2): Clark; Hill, Sibbick, Rowles; M Smith, McKay (Kuol 77), Snodgrass, Halliday (Forrest 87), Cochrane (Devlin 60); Shankland, Ginnelly (Humphrys 77).

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St Mirren (3-5-2): Carson; Gallagher, Shaughnessy, Taylor (Brophy 85); Flynn, Baccus (Reid 67), Gogic, O’Hara (Kiltie 32), Tanser; Main, Greive (Ayunga 67).

Referee: David Munro.

Attendance: 18,721.