When Josh Ginnelly talks of fighting adversity for years, it’s a different kind of tale. The backstory to his arrival at Hearts 18 months ago reads like a tour of England’s non-leagues and lower divisions.
Altrincham, Shrewsbury Town, Walsall, Lincoln City, Tranmere Rovers. You can almost hear voices echoing around half-empty grounds amid the smell of burnt pies and wintergreen. Those were the winger's surroundings for years, a necessary and certainly useful apprenticeship following his release by Aston Villa.
In 2014, a Sky Sports scout report rated the then-17-year-old Ginnelly as a great prospect at Shrewsbury with a potential future value of £6million. Struggling out of that suffocating lower-league environment took time. He will be 25 next month and it is hard to begrudge him the rewards which might transpire later this year.
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Hearts are firmly on course to qualify for European football once again. Last time they did so, Ginnelly was running about at places like Braintree and Eastleigh, a Burnley player on loan at Altrincham in the English National League. In a few months it might be the Europa League.
“I’ve been against the grain for the last few years to be honest,” he tells the Evening News. “I’ve always had a name, or someone doesn’t like me, or whatever. It’s just the way I am. I’m quite loud, I’m outspoken. I’ve always been up against it in terms of being in the lower leagues.
“It’s not easy to get out of that. When you do get out of it, you appreciate the club you’re with. Being here at Hearts is massive for me. I’ve come out of that and if I was to play in Europe it would be brilliant for me. Not many people go from where I’ve come from and manage that.”
Nothing should be taken for granted yet, a point Ginnelly stresses in case anyone assumes complacency. Hearts are in a healthy position sitting third in the cinch Premiership table and Europe was always the ultimate aim this year.
“The gaffer has reiterated it because he said it at the start of the season,” says Ginnelly. “I wouldn’t say we are looking at that saying it’s done because it’s most definitely not. Two or three bad results and we are going to be fighting for it.
“At the moment we have have a nice little gap but we can’t go out and start thinking we’ve played all the teams who could push us out of the way. This is the time when teams pick up points and go on a run. We can’t afford to be dropping points anywhere.”
If endurance is required to achieve something, rest assured Ginnelly is up for it. And when one target is reached he’s on to the next. Ambition is everything, it seems. He’s entitled to feel on a roll after battling out of lower-league football and hitting the upper echelons of Scotland’s top flight.
“Obviously I want more out of myself. I’m not going to just settle at this. If we get into Europe I don’t want to just play at that level, I actually want to go and do something,” he says.
Football remains a constant learning curve for a player in his mid-20s. Ginnelly is still adapting to a Hearts formation which perhaps doesn’t completely suit his traditional tanner ba’ wing instincts. Rather than knock the ball past a full-back and race him down the touchline, it’s now a case of using intelligence to find pockets of space inside.
Two players in attacking midfield roles sit behind a striker and, with every forward fit right now at Riccarton, game time is at a premium. “Yeah, I’d say so. I’d also say that I have to improve on the way we play now.
“We’re not playing as wide as we used to, so this season I’ve had to learn the striker role and also the No.10 role. That’s not my game but I’ve tried to improve on it.
“I’m learning and, if I’m called upon, I need to produce. Throughout my whole career I’ve been touchline-wide. Coming into that pocket of space inside is very different. For players like Baz [McKay], he is a pocket player. You have to adapt as quick as you can. I’ve had a few good games but I need to keep learning to get better.”
He played against Hibs as a substitute on Tuesday. “We want to win the derby game especially. There are still positives,” he says of the goalless draw. “We created chances and their keeper pulled off some very good saves. We wanted the win and the bragging rights but we didn’t lose ground.”
Now it’s on to Rangers at Ibrox on Sunday. “We’ve played well in almost every game against the big sides in this league. Other teams have gone there and been pumped but we don’t go there with that mentality,” he says.
“We go there thinking: ‘We’ve had the better of this team before so we’re just going to do that again.’ Obviously it will be a lot harder than against other teams but we have done well and I think we can go to Ibrox with confidence.”
Ginnelly’s journey has taken him from the English National League, through League Two, League One, into the Scottish Championship and finally the Premiership. Stepping out at Ibrox is another endorsement of his resilience, not to mention another chance for points towards that European dream.