The arrival to Hearts of strikers Conor Sammon and Robbie Muirhead are the result of Robbie Neilson prioritising the beefing up of his strikeforce.
Hearts had been weakened up front following the big-money departure of Osman Sow in January and subsequent replacement Abiola Dauda’s loan spell from Vitesse Arnhem coming to an end, plus the loaning of Gavin Reilly to Dunfermline for a season.
Sammon, the Dublin-born striker, committed to spending the next three years of his career at Tynecastle this week after returning north from Derby County.
An impressive scoring spell at Kilmarnock earned him a move to then English Premier League Wigan Athletic in January 2011. However, the former Derry City man made only 32 appearances in 18 months at the Latics, scoring once before Derby paid £1.2 million for his services in August 2012.
Again however, he found regular football hard to come by and spent much of his four years as a Rams player on loan, amassing more than 50 appearances in respective spells at Ipswich Town, Rotherham United and Sheffield United.
Now back north of the border, Sammon has the stability and peace of mind afforded by a long-term contract. “I’ve been on loan moves down south and it’s definitely difficult to get settled and to feel properly at home – as a footballer and for my family as well,” he admitted.
“Coming to Scotland and Hearts – a fantastic club with positive things happening – made it a simple decision for me. Signing a three-year deal gives me stability and allows me to settle with my family and hit the ground running.
“It shows Robbie Neilson has a lot of faith in me and that was a huge selling point. I want to get settled and have that stability not just for me but for my family as well. I think it’s crucial to have that stability and the manager has shown real faith in me and I’m coming here hoping to improve the club, the squad and be part of something really successful here.”
Familiar faces are always a welcome sight for a footballer moving clubs and, in John Robertson, Sammon has both someone he knows at Tynecastle and more importantly, the club’s greatest ever league goal scorer to call on for advice once again. “I didn’t speak to him this time but I know Robbo from my time at Derry City,” he explained. “He signed me in the close season and by the time I came to the club he had left which was an unusual scenario.
“From my time at Kilmarnock Jim Jefferies used to bring in Robbo to work with the strikers and I’m excited at the prospect of working with Robbo – a prolific striker. I know I can pick up tips from his sessions just as I will from assistant manager Stevie Crawford.
“In front of goal he taught me to be calm. It’s an easy thing to say – relax, but it only comes from habit and doing it on a daily basis. You can’t go into a loud stadium and click your fingers, you have to practise. He did that and taught me that. I’ll keep practising it day in day out and I’ll look to do it and take it into Hearts games.”
Such composure in front of goal will come in useful as Hearts embark on their first Europa League campaign since 2013/14. A first opportunity to test himself against teams from the continent was another major draw for Sammon. “It will be my first taste so I’m really excited about that,” he enthused. “The draw is on Monday and it will be brilliant to see what team we face. I could even be going back to Ireland, and there are some Welsh teams in it as well as trips further afield. Whatever comes up, I’m sure it will be a tough test for us to get through. But I have every confidence in the group of players we have here, from watching them last season, and I think we will look to improve on that this year.”
Summer speculation suggested that Sammon could have been jetting off abroad to help Aberdeen on their own Europa League adventure. He admitted a conversation with Dons boss Derek McInnes took place but Gorgie was his final destination. “I spoke to the manager at the tail end of last season,” he said. “It was just a conversation and that’s where we were. I didn’t get an offer from Aberdeen. I was obviously then excited to come to Hearts and it was an easy decision for me.”
Along with Juanma, Sammon will be vying for a place in attack with another former Killie man in Muirhead, who penned a one-year deal 24 hours before Sammon signed on.
Despite not having crossed paths at Rugby Park, he is sure the 20-year-old will prove to be a useful acquisition. “From my time at Kilmarnock I always kept an eye on what was going on,” he added. “I know he did well at Kilmarnock when he was there so I’m looking forward to working with him and I’m sure we can chat about Killie pies and other things as well!”