Gavin Reilly opens up willingly when asked about a difficult start to his Hearts career. He thanks the Tynecastle board, fans and coaching staff for their support as he adapts to the Scottish Premiership.
A red card and two-match ban earlier this month didn’t help his cause. With suspension served, he is now eager to prove he belongs here.
You would struggle to find a more genuine and honest footballer than Reilly. He joined Hearts from Queen of the South in June on a three-year contract but knows he has yet to showcase his true ability in maroon. Being mostly restricted to a substitute role built frustration within the 22-year-old. Then a kick at Kilmarnock’s Steven Smith four weeks ago saw him sent off and banned for violent conduct. He returned as a sub against Celtic in Wednesday night’s League Cup quarter-final.
Reilly acknowledges that one moment of rashness cost him dearly at a time when he was desperate to establish a place in Hearts’ starting line-up. It may well have stemmed from his own frustrations at not playing more often, but he admits there was no excuse for his actions. Time out of the squad allowed him to reflect and, in his own words, grow up. He was disciplined by his club but remains grateful for backing from Robbie Neilson.
The head coach held private talks with Reilly over the incident, telling him to move on quickly and retain belief in his ability. Neilson also spoke publicly to stress that the striker should be given time to find his feet having only ever played at Championship level before moving to Edinburgh.
Reilly is now in contention to play tomorrow when Hearts visit Partick Thistle in the league. He hopes for the chance to start the game and, in a sense, start again following an uneasy couple of months. Inwardly, he is feeling positive and is thankful to know his colleagues and bosses went out of their way to stand by him in recent weeks.
“I appreciate that they’ve done that,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “The board and the fans have backed me as well. I just hope I can give something back by coming in and scoring goals for them. “I kind of feel I owe them something but I owe myself something as well. I’ve missed the last two league games [against Dundee United and Ross County] and those are games where I could possibly have got goals for the team. Hopefully, if I get back into the team I can repay the fans and repay the board for backing me, but also myself as well.
“I’ve started three games in the league so far and one in the League Cup [at Forfar]. I was hoping for a wee bit more football but I’m happy to be here. I’m here on a three-year contract and I’ve still got two full seasons after this one. I’m still young and I’m still learning the game. I feel this is the place for me, the place that’s going to make me the best player I can be.
“I was told when I first came to Hearts that I wasn’t going to be playing all the time. For the first season anyway, I wasn’t going to be starting every week. I’m just doing what I can in training and the under-20 games. Hopefully I can push my way into the team now.
“I’m definitely confident. As a striker, you have to be confident. If you’re not then you’re up against it straight away. I proved last year that I can score goals. I know it was in the Championship and not the Premiership. When you go up a league it’s harder to score but you also have better players to pick out passes for you. I’m confident I’ll score the goals if I’m given the chances.”
Reilly insists the red card – the first of his professional career – has now been pushed to the back of his mind. He watched replays of the incident to fully understand what had happened as he jostled for the ball with Smith before lashing out.
“I’ve not initially set out to kick him but I gave the referee the chance to make the decision,” he admitted. “It’s in the past and I’ve put it behind me already. I watched it back and got clarity. I was frustrated but it’s done now. I’m past that and I’ve grown up. I’ve been training as hard as I can and I’ve got myself as fit as possible in that three-week window. I’m raring to get going again. I’m using it as motivation to get me going. I need to get into the starting line-up and scoring goals.
“Robbie said it was one of those things, that I had to put it behind me and keep working hard. I’ve done that and I respect him for what he said. I appreciated he gave me help with the situation. It’s good to get back playing again because it’s been a long few weeks. I was sent off in the Kilmarnock game and then the next week was the international break, so I had to wait even longer. I’ve been working hard behind the scenes and I’m happy to be back in the squad. I’m hoping for a starting place tomorrow.”
Of his four starts, possibly his best display came against Thistle at Tynecastle in August. “I was played out of position in the Aberdeen game. That was something different for me. The other two games I started, I scored against Motherwell and felt I did really well against Partick Thistle. I was told that by the managerial staff. I feel I’ve done okay overall. It is a step up, I understand that. Even in training it’s a higher standard but I think I’m doing okay at the moment.
“The other strikers, Juanma and Osman Sow, have hit the ground running and both scored a few goals each. For the first four games, the forwards were rotated and we were all scoring goals. It’s good for the gaffer if strikers are scoring. I feel as if I’ll do that if I’m given the chance.”
Hearts’ problems are more in defence than attack with centre-back Blazej Augustyn suspended and captain Alim Ozturk still injured. Neilson must choose between Callum Paterson and Jordan McGhee to partner Igor Rossi in central defence. The other is expected to occupy the right-back berth.
“Partick are in a good run of form but we want to get back to winning ways,” said Reilly following the 2-1 League Cup defeat by Celtic in midweek. “We’ve had good results in the league over the last two weekends. We want to go on a run again like we did at the start of the season. If I start the game, I’ll be happy. If I’m coming on and contributing, I’m happy as well.”
The feeling is that Reilly is just happy to be back playing after his recent anguish. His start to life in Gorgie has been far from straightforward, but he fully intends to learn from the experience.