Recent Edinburgh derbies saw Hearts players accused of lacking passion. Not this time. Craig Levein’s return to this fixture guarantees his players will know precisely what is required against Hibs. For an extra dose of fervour, he could always invite Gary Locke to address the squad.
Hearts visit Easter Road on Tuesday having failed to beat their greatest rivals in their last seven meetings. Most recently, a meek surrender in February this year under Ian Cathro saw them knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Hibs for the second consecutive season.
Locke simply wouldn’t have stood for it. Now principal ambassador at Tynecastle, he will be willing the team on from the stand this time. Unless he is asked to impart some zeal in the dressing room.
Brad McKay, the former Hearts defender, recalled Locke as the pivotal figure in Edinburgh derby preparations when he managed the club.
“Lockie is just massive in the derbies, he loved the derbies,” said McKay, now with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. “He wouldn’t let you walk out on that pitch if you didn’t know 100 per cent what it meant to everybody. And him especially, because he is a big Hearts fan.
“Lockie just wouldn’t let you play in a derby if you didn’t know what it meant. If you didn’t show it, you’d be taken off quite sharpish.
“I remember playing at Easter Road one time. Gary let Robbo come into the dressing room before the game and he played a video showing all of Robbo’s goals against Hibs. Robbo took great pleasure in that, obviously. I can’t remember how many times he’s told me how many goals he scored against Hibs.
“That was about 15 minutes before kick-off on derby day as we were preparing to walk out to play Hibs. It was just something to show everyone in the dressing room what it means to the fans and the club; what it’s like to be on the winning side in an Edinburgh derby.
“Small things like that make a difference. When Robbo scored you could see the fans’ reaction. It wasn’t just him, though. You could’ve played videos of Mark de Vries or plenty other Hearts players.”
McKay believes communicating the size of the task to the foreign element is key for Hearts. “You need a core of people who can get through to the foreign players and make them understand. Gary Locke was great at that when he was Hearts manager.
“He was criticised for one thing and another in his time there but one thing’s for sure: He would make sure every Hearts player, no matter where they came from, knew what it meant to beat Hibs.
“He was lucky because he had a lot of Scottish boys as the core of his team. He would never let you go and play in a derby, or in any other game, not knowing what it meant to play for Hearts.
“If he thought for a second you weren’t prepared to fight for the badge, fight for the club and fight for the fans, you quite simply wouldn’t be playing. Robbie Neilson was the same but with more foreigners around the squad at that stage.”
McKay acknowledged Hearts must atone for that 3-1 Scottish Cup replay loss six months ago by giving their fans an impassioned display. Hibs have enjoyed the upper hand in this fixture having gone undefeated since August 2014.
“I don’t know if it’s a case of Hibs getting better. You could sit and analyse it all day and ask: ‘Do the Hearts players know what it means?’ ‘Have Hibs become better?’
“I think a lot of players, if they were honest, would tell you they underperformed and didn’t show enough desire in that cup replay. I saw a few tweets from the players apologising to the fans but apologies are no good if you’re not going to make amends the next time.
“All the Hearts fans ask is to show that passion and desire. One thing I did show when I was there was a lot of heart, passion and desire to play for the club. Sometimes it killed me a bit. To show too much emotion in a game like that can kill you because you don’t relax and play your own game.
“You get caught up in it a little bit and feel tense, but that’s one thing I had in abundance. I wanted to play for Hearts and I knew what it meant. I know Hearts fans still appreciate that when I speak to them. Hearts have a completely different structure and are going down a different route now.
“If they have a core of players with half the passion and desire as the boys in our team did a few years ago, they’ll do well. It’s not just derbies either. It’s home games against the likes of Inverness and other teams. You need to want to go out and win when you play for Hearts.”