Gary Mackay-Steven's new metal hand ready for Hearts-Hibs test after derbies in New York, Glasgow and Dundee
A career path from Thurso to Edinburgh via Liverpool, Dundee, Glasgow, Aberdeen and New York ensures Gary Mackay-Steven is a connoisseur of football derbies.
Dundee United against Dundee, Celtic versus Rangers, New York City against New York Red Bulls, and now Hearts-Hibs. The winger carries first-hand experience of inner-city rivalry in its most intense form and is therefore well prepared for tomorrow’s meeting at Tynecastle Park.
Scotland’s Capital derby offers its own brand of unadulterated mayhem, although so far it has flattered to deceive for 31-year-old GMS. Both meetings between Hearts and Hibs this season ended goalless and he only played in the first. In that sense, he is still waiting for this fixture to ignite. It shouldn’t take much longer.
This weekend’s Premiership meeting includes huge European connotations for both clubs. Then comes the encore at Hampden Park next week in the Scottish Cup semi-final. In case you’ve been living on the moon of late, Edinburgh is about to erupt.
Mackay-Steven is fit and ready to return to action for Hearts after surgery on a broken hand. He couldn’t have timed it better.
“The derbies I’ve played in are all unique in their own way. Every derby is massive and the atmosphere for this one has been so good. Tynecastle’s atmosphere is great anyway but on a derby day it’s a little more special,” he said.
“The week building up to a derby has a different feel. You know from going around the city how much the game means to everyone. In Edinburgh they are all either Hearts or Hibs fans. It’s an atmosphere you relish.
“These are the games you look forward to most. They are the ones you want to play in because if you win it’s an amazing feeling. Hopefully I’ll get my first derby win this weekend.”
Meetings between the Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh clubs often produce typically chaotic Scottish derby matches. In New York, the Hudson River derby as it’s known is no less feverish. Mackay-Steven spent 18 months in the Eastern Seaboard of the United States with New York City FC.
“The derby there was slightly different to another game. You knew it was a derby, put it that way. The fans were right up for it. That was the game that mattered most to them. It was great. A derby game is a big game and one you want to stamp your authority on them.
“It’s the same here. You don’t have to adapt too much. You just have to make sure you are on it straight away. You know tackles are going to be flying, it’s going to be full-blooded with people giving everything.
“That’s most games in this league, to be fair, but in a derby you need to make sure you get on top and you think that little split second before your opponent does.”
This weekend’s edition of the Edinburgh derby takes place at 3pm on a Saturday for the first time in 16 years. “For us as players it doesn't make a difference. We are used to playing at 3pm,” said Mackay-Steven. “It’s going to be a great game. We just need to make sure we are right up for it. I’m sure we will be.”
He acknowledged that he has still to experience the full euphoria a Capital clash can bring. “For sure, yes. The first game was 0-0 and the second game was 0-0. But in the first match both teams could have won it. We came off the pitch a little bit disappointed.
“It would be nice to experience scoring a goal, the crowd right behind us even more — and that winning feeling. Definitely that’s the aim for Saturday.”
The hand – broken last month against United – will be protected by a splint. It already withstood a Craig Halkett challenge in training this week.
“We were shoulder-to-shoulder and he tested it quite well,” smiled Mackay-Steven. “You need to totally come through things like that because that is things that will come up in games, especially in derby games so it’s all good.
“I fell and, because of the way I fell, I broke the bone in the back of my hand. I needed an operation to get it fixed. I knew straight away. I needed a lot of metal work in my hand.
“I needed to let the operation knit things together and for the plate to set before I could do stuff. It was frustrating but it could have been worse. I need to wear a special kind of splint when I come back but I have been wearing it in training and it is not too bad.
“When I knew I needed an operation I was worried [about missing big games] but the healing process has gone well and now I can wear a protective thing it helps even more so it is not too bad.
“I was desperate to be back. I was looking at the calendar, at all the games, and these ones are the ones I didn’t want to miss but I am happy I have made it just and no more.
“I couldn’t do contact training until this week but I have been running before that with it on. You get used to it. It’s not too bad at all. I don’t use my hands too much so as long as it’s protected a little bit then it’s fine. I have plates and all sorts of metal in there now. It is a bit weird but you get used to it.”