Danny Grainger exclusive: Craving management pressure, a 2012 Hearts reunion, and what makes a successful season at Tynecastle

Living permanently back at the family home in Cumbria, Danny Grainger’s life is tranquil. Sprawling countryside, fresh air and very little hassle. Ideal.

Thursday, 10th March 2022, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 10th March 2022, 8:22 am
Former Hearts defender Danny Grainger is keen to return to management.
Former Hearts defender Danny Grainger is keen to return to management.

He would prefer a bit more daily intensity if the truth be known. In fact, a lot more. He runs his own Cumbria Football Academy after leaving an assistant coach’s job at Falkirk in December. It keeps him busy without being entirely satisfying.

What the former Hearts defender really craves is front-line football management work: Pressure, demands, decisions and consequences. Two years in charge of English non-league club Workington Reds gave him the bug before he joined Falkirk. Now 35, he is waiting for the right opportunity to become his own man once again.

“I knew I wasn’t going to stay at Falkirk once the manager [Paul Sheerin] had left,” said Grainger, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I went there for Paul so I headed back home to my family. It was a tough few months commuting and staying in hotels and I’m disappointed it didn’t work out at Falkirk.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of teams. I want to be patient and I want to go back in as a No.1 somewhere. I enjoyed working as No.2 to Paul but I do feel I want to be my own man.

“You never say never. There are probably three or four people I’m close with who I would work under as an assistant but mainly I want to be the guy in charge. I want to make the decisions and I want to have that pressure. I want teams playing the way I want them to play.

“I’d like to be that head coach or manager figure. It’s very quiet at the moment. There aren’t many jobs available, be it non-league in England or lower leagues in Scotland. You see jobs come up but they’re suddenly taken within a few days.

“There’s no way I would sit here and say I need to go in at a certain level. If a club is ambitious and wants to be successful then I’m more than happy to go in there. For the moment, I’m keeping busy with my own football academy and I’m out watching as many games as I can.”

A glance north towards his former employers in Edinburgh illustrates the passion Grainger hankers after. Hearts manager Robbie Neilson is closing in on third place and guaranteed European football, while this Saturday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final with St Mirren offers a route to silverware.

The tie evokes priceless memories for Grainger. This May marks ten years since he played and scored in that 5-1 final romp against Hibs at Hampden, a match regarded by many as the greatest in Tynecastle history.

That 2012 cup-winning team broke up before their empty celebration champagne bottles had even been tossed out with the trash. They have never been in the same room together since, so this year would be the perfect time for a reunion.

“There’s never been any reunion. We are all still quite close,” explained Grainger. “I’m still close with guys like Webby [Andy Webster] and Stevie Elliott. We’ve got a Whatsapp group and we do catch up, especially after the terrible news about Marius [Zaliukas].

“It’s hard to nail down a date to get us all together but with the tenth anniversary it would be nice for everybody to meet up again. Not just the players but the families as well because all the wives and girlfriends were close.

“I can’t believe it’s been ten years, to be honest. That baffles me. You see Hearts on a cup run this year, coming up against Auchinleck Talbot and now St Mirren. It’s a similar path to the one we took in 2012 so fingers crossed they get the same end result.

“I’ve been invited up to a couple of events which have clashed with a few things but I am hoping to get back up to Edinburgh and take in a game soon. I’d like to catch up with a few people like Gary Locke and a few others.”

Hearts’ progress is something Grainger always monitors closely. His groans during recent years of underachievement were as loud as any supporter’s around Gorgie, so he is understandably pleased with the current campaign so far.

Neilson’s team hold a convincing 13-point advantage sitting third in the Premiership table. Grainger knows intimately the euphoria brought by cup success and the subsequent adulation which follows. For ten years and beyond.

He is keen to see how the new few weeks transpire as Hearts strive to turn a good season into a great one.

“They have performed consistently well all season, bar those few games last month. This is where they should be,” said Grainger. “Take out Celtic and Rangers and Hearts should be top of the pile. They’ve cemented that this season and it would take a catastrophic run-in for them not to finish third now.

“Stephen Kingsley has done well at left-back. Big players have stepped up – Craig Gordon has made vital saves at vital times and Liam Boyce has scored goals. You can see what it means for them to play for the club and the fans get on board with that.

“Hearts are where they need to be now. Robbie Neilson has done a great job. It’s just a case of pushing on, getting third place secured and then if you can add silverware it’s a really successful season.”

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