Josh Ginnelly is in the proverbial good place. Hearts is the ninth different club of his career but, at 24, he finally feels settled, contented, and most importantly fit. He is now gradually easing himself back into a rhythm after more than five months without proper football action.
The Englishman signed a two-year deal to join Hearts permanently last month following a 12-month loan from Preston North End last season. A ruptured hamstring in January curtailed his progress, although he had already shown sufficient wing wizardry by then to earn a contract.
He still believes he must prove himself in Edinburgh. People accusing him of being injury-prone received short shrift on social media as he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. They can’t, however, disrupt the mindset of a player who knows what he wants and possesses the ability to achieve it.
“I’ve got things to prove but I know I can produce and I’ve got the confidence of my team-mates and the gaffer, so it will come,” said Ginnelly, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I’ve got my fitness levels to prove, it’s not about ability. Everyone knows I’m capable. The focus for me and everybody else is to stay fit and have a good season.
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“It doesn't really wind me up [injury-prone comments]. It’s just a small minority and there will always be that in football. Whatever they’ve got to say, that’s fine. Their opinion doesn’t matter.
“We spoke about it early on last season that I was pretty much looking to stay here. Obviously, things didn’t go my way with fitness but I’ve worked harder than most boys. I’ve stayed in, done a lot of gym work and a lot of running. The staff have been there every step of the way as well, so I want to repay them.”
You might think the glamour drew Ginnelly to sign that contract. Hearts are back in the cinch Premiership awaiting high-octane fixtures against Celtic, Rangers, Hibs, Aberdeen and others in the top grade of Scottish football.
His Preston contract officially expired at the end of June and, by then, those in Gorgie had won the Championship title and were pushing ahead with plans for the top flight. There was more to it than that for the new signing, though.
“That was a factor but it wasn’t really the main factor,” explained the winger. “The main factor for me was the support I was shown by the manager, the players and especially the fans. It’s just the club in general. This is a fantastic club and it’s actually an honour to play for Hearts. I love it here.
“People can’t speak highly enough of the place so I’m happy to be here. I think any player would admit that, if people are praising your ability and performances, it’s going to make you happy and feel positive. At the same time, you need to find that consistency within yourself, play games back-to-back, don’t get injured and play well.”
Saturday’s 2-0 win at Peterhead in the opening Premier Sports Cup tie was a reasonable start and a foundation on which to build. Ginnelly played 60 minutes and showed flashes of pace and skill in Hearts’ new 3-4-3 formation.
Tonight, Cove Rangers are the visitors to Tynecastle and that system is likely to be employed once again. Ginnelly enjoys a certain amount of freedom as a wide player supplying a central striker.
“It’s a different position for me. We have certain rotations in the games but we’ve been working on it for quite a while,” he said. “Everyone is buying into what the manager wants to do. There’s no confusion. We need to improve on a couple of things but that will come with games.”
Everyone on manager’s side
It is encouraging hearing a player talk of widespread backing for manager Robbie Neilson. He endured stinging criticism for some results last season, specifically the Scottish Cup loss at Highland League Brora Rangers, but Ginnelly stressed the squad is united behind him.
“I don’t agree with the criticism and I don’t think any of the boys agree with it either. He’s a fantastic manager and everybody is on his side. I don’t see the problem with him, I think he's superb. He works very hard, so do his staff. It’s never been an issue for me.
“That loss wasn’t great but it happens in football. It was nothing to do with the manager. It was just a poor performance from the players. We had to dust ourselves down and get back on the road, which we did and we won the league.”
National cup success is one of Hearts’ biggest priorities this term so these early competitive matches carry a fair amount of significance. The League Cup has not adorned the trophy cabinet at Tynecastle since 1962 and there is understandably a strong desire to avoid an unwanted 60-year anniversary next year.
Having taken care of Peterhead in the north east, Neilson’s side can take control of Group A with a win against Cove – who are managed by the manager’s former Hearts team-mate Paul Hartley.
“That winning mentality is a major factor in our season,” said Ginnelly. “Whether it’s Celtic or Peterhead, we want to win the game. We’ve done that throughout pre-season and we won our first game on Saturday. So far, so good.”