Gary Mackay: How I felt when Hearts won league and what needs to happen next
My overriding feeling on Saturday night was happiness for everyone connected with the football club when the title was sealed.
The big word here is connected, though. That’s what makes football clubs special. Fans who have lived and breathed Hearts through thick and thin, people at the club who are steeped in the fabric of Heart of Midlothian. For all of them, I was delighted to be back in the Premiership.
Now, however, it’s all about building on that connection. There’s clearly been ruptures in the relationship between the club and a chunk of the fanbase and that needs to be addressed.
Robbie Neilson is at the tip of that iceberg and he’s been able to ride out some of the storm by clinching the league. He deserves credit for that. Now he has to keep stitching up wounds by doing two things.
The first thing, for me, is to try and get some more young, home-grown players into the team. We still don’t have enough players coming through the academy and that helps the connection between punter and player. I had it, Robbie had it and wee Robbo had it. Those players are so important to Hearts.
The second thing is probably the most important, and that’s to get the recruitment spot-on. He has absolutely no wriggle room in terms of hitting the ground running next season. We have the spine of the team there. Craig Gordon is one of the best goalkeepers in the country and John Souttar is coming back. Then you’ve got Liam Boyce in attack and I think Armand Gnanduillet will come on more next season. Craig Halkett and Michael Smith are solid players. Peter Haring showed flashes of being back to his best and we know he can play in the top flight. But we need to make sure we get it 100 per cent right with those around them.
I also think Aaron McEneff will get a lift from his goal. I think he’s got something to offer in the Premiership. I think he’s got all the attributes of a box-to-box player.
McEneff and Gnanduillet arrived under Joe Savage and I think Savage has had a positive impact at Hearts. If you look at the money we’ve wasted with longer-term contracts, it’s so important that the person who deals with recruitment gets more right than wrong. He is going to have such an integral role this summer. He’s come in with no strings attached and is therefore able to open eyes around him and also bring a fresh portfolio of player to us. I want him to be ruthless and demand more from people who are at the football club.
One player who might be on the way out is Andy Irving. We’ve offered him a good deal and I think he’d be a better player this time around in the Premiership, but if he doesn’t want to stay and feels that he can do better elsewhere, I would be saying to Heart of Midlothian to let him go. It would be disappointing, but if he fancies a challenge away from Tynecastle and doesn’t want to be part of it, then we’ll take compensation and wish him well. I am 100 per cent behind the football club on this one.