One of the biggest revelations of Hearts’ summer is not a new signing. It is a 19-year-old who was loaned out twice last season but who is now primed for a starting place when the Ladbrokes Premiership begins tomorrow.
Callumn Morrison’s surge to prominence from the squad’s periphery has not been surprising given his undoubted talent. It has, though, been unexpected during a pre-season in which 13 signings have swelled the Hearts first team.
To his credit, Morrison looks very unperturbed. He is thriving on the opportunity at senior level after first emerging from the youth academy three years ago. Robbie Neilson gave him his debut but the teenager is now coming of age under Craig Levein.
Three starts and one impressive substitute appearance in four Betfred Cup ties last month underlined Morrison’s readiness for the challenge. At right midfield or right wing-back, he is a determined competitor with genuine pace and a desire to deliver quality balls into the opposition penalty box. There is nothing not to like.
Loan spells at Stirling Albion – he scored ten goals in 20 games in League Two last season – and Brechin City taught him how to handle men’s football. Now he is ready to start Hearts’ opening league game at Hamilton Academical.
“He was on loan last year at Stirling and scored a lot of goals. He has come a bit out of the woodwork,” explained Christophe Berra, the Hearts captain. “I am sure the manager obviously noted how well he had done last season. He is something different.
“Last season we did not really have any pace in the team. This season we definitely have pace. If I was a full-back, Callumn would be a bit of a nightmare because he never stops. Sometimes it does not always go his way but he works his socks off, he is fast, and when he gets the ball he always wants to turn you and get a shot in.
“He is only 19. He will have ups and downs. If he just works hard and shows that good character, he will have a chance. He has started the season well and he may be in the team on Saturday. If not, he has not done his long-term chances any harm.”
Morrison’s aggression is one of his strongest attributes. Unusually for a winger, he exudes grit and tenacity throughout every appearance. He stands just 5ft 8in but being more of a diminutive type does not deter him.
“He is a game little guy. As I said he gets stuck in there and he gets up and down,” said Berra. “He is not scared to put tackles in. If he gets hit, he will get back up and go again. It’s something the fans like to see, someone who has come through the system. Hopefully, if things go well, he can have a good season.”
He is still finding his feet within the Hearts first team but signs are he is comfortable in that environment. “I don’t know what he is like with the young boys but when he is around the older ones he gets on with his job and is quite quiet. He has been excellent so far,” stated Berra.
The Scotland internationalist leads his team to Lanarkshire feeling confident after their Betfred Cup campaign. They made light of a two-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player to win Group C and progress to the tournament’s knockout stage, where they will meet Dunfermline.
Ten days ago, Hearts faced Cowdenbeath needing to win to avoid elimination from the competition. The landscape is now remarkably different after two successive 5-0 wins over the Fife club and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“Obviously, we’re feeling better with two wins after getting the points deduction,” said Berra. “Football changes week to week – that’s part and parcel of it. You have to be thick-skinned. I don’t get too high when things are going well and I do not get too low when things are not going so well. You just get on with it.
“Hamilton is never an easy game. Firstly it’s always tough there, and secondly you never know what is going to happen on the first day of the season. I don’t think anyone can call it.”
Hearts should enjoy a much more stable start to this season than 12 months ago. They sacked head coach Ian Cathro days before the campaign started, Levein took over four weeks later, plus home matches were switched to BT Murrayfield whilst Tynecastle’s new main stand was completed.
Berra stressed there can be no excuses this year as the Edinburgh club try to improve on a sixth-place league finish. “Pre-season has been tough. It is all to give a platform for the start of the season. As a football club we now need to perform,” he said.
“We can’t be saying this and that. We can’t say: ‘Oh, this did not go for us.’ It is down to us now to have a good season. There will be ups and down but hopefully more ups this season than downs.
“With no disrespect to other clubs, we think we are a big club and want to be competing in the top four, minimum. Our home record was great last season but it was obviously the reverse games we need to work on.
“Last season there were a lot of distractions off the pitch – Murrayfield, things going on at the new stadium, this and that. This year, everything is settled. We have a new pitch which is excellent, the majority of the stadium is finished so there are no excuses.
“There is a big turnaround of players so obviously there will be more competition. It is down to us to perform on the matchday.We have expectations as a club – we want to get back to European football, get back to cup finals and semi finals. That’s our target, like it is every season.”