Battling Scott Brown has earned Hearts teenager Harry Cochrane notoriety, respect and a damn sore collarbone. Like a kid who won’t do what he’s told, he is ready for more combat this weekend.
Brown just lifted his seventh straight Premiership trophy and leads Celtic to Tynecastle Park hoping to avenge December’s crushing 4-0 defeat there. Cochrane, 16 then and 17 now, enjoyed his finest hour that day and strutted off the field with his first senior goal, his name on everyone’s lips and memories to last a lifetime.
His next engagement with the Celtic captain was less fruitful. Brown clattered into a challenge on his young nemesis which forced Cochrane off before half-time in Hearts’ 3-1 defeat at Parkhead in January. His neck went into spasm and his collarbone was left badly bruised, sidelining him for nearly a month.
It hasn’t deterred him any. Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, claimed afterwards that Brown had targeted Cochrane deliberately but the midfielder is unperturbed. He accepts he is a boy playing a man’s game at the moment and is prepared for the inexorables of senior football.
“I don’t think there was much in the challenge [from Brown]. He’s obviously an aggressive player and he was always going to go for the ball. It was just the way he’s landed on me,” said Cochrane.
“I fell and he’s landed on me, which caused my collarbone to move. There was nothing in the tackle and he didn’t mean it.
“Especially with size of me, it was always going to come. I got one on the ankle at Ross County as well. I just need to expect it and deal with it when it comes. Hopefully I’ll get a bit bigger through my career but just now I need to take the hit and deal with it.
“It can be a tough grounding. You need to be sharper in the head if that’s going to happen. You have to be one step ahead of the bigger men because, if you aren’t, they’ll just be on top of you and you’ll get smashed. I need to try to move the ball quickly.”
He insists there is no bad blood between him and Brown. “He’s been fine with me, absolutely fine. He hasn’t really said anything. He just shook my hand and said, ‘well done’.”
Cochrane didn’t sleep for several days following Celtic’s last visit to Gorgie. Neither did his gran, apparently.
“That will probably be my best memory in football, no matter what I go on to do,” he smiled. “If I achieve anything better than that I think it will still be my best memory. The other Celtic game was probably one of my worst, but they’re all learning points. Hopefully on Sunday we can play like we did last time at Tynecastle.
“I’d say I was a bit more nervous playing at Parkhead than I was in the Tynecastle game. I’d played at home before and was used to it but it was my first time at Parkhead. I felt the nerves and I didn’t start the game well, then I got injured. It was a bit disappointing.
“The first game was just the best game I’ve ever played in. I was up all night. I was tired but I didn’t sleep for a few days. I don’t think my gran slept, either. I was getting text after text from her. She doesn’t know anything about football but she is a big fan.”
Recent weeks have seen him left out of the Hearts team to rest, but he is itching to be reinstated with high-octane games against Celtic and Hibs on the horizon.
“I’m feeling okay. Obviously I haven’t had many minutes in the last few games. I think they’ve been giving me a rest but I’m feeling ready to go again. Given the amount of games I’ve played, I think my body probably needs a rest. I’m still young and I’m playing against men week in and week out. Getting a rest was good but I just want to be back playing and get back out on the park.
“I played with the Under-20s last week and I actually quite enjoyed it. I liked simply being back on the pitch and playing. We only won 1-0 but it was good being back with the lads, playing and winning again.
“I’ve been told throughout the season that I will come out of the team at times. That could be because of performance or to give me a rest. I completely understand that. I am still young and my body does need a rest on occasions.
“You always try to perform well in training but this week, when it’s the bigger teams, you feel you need to do well because you really want to be playing in this game. You want to play in every game but these ones are special. There’s an extra edge.”
Hearts’ approach for Sunday would seem obvious and fairly straightforward. They must try to recreate the intense, energetic performance which overwhelmed Celtic last time and ended their record 69-game unbeaten domestic run.
“We need to go into this game thinking about last time and remembering it. We want to replicate it,” stated Cochrane.
“Obviously, Celtic will be confident going into the game having just won the league. We just need to focus on ourselves and try to get a result.”
For a number of teens who have broken through this season, the final three games offer the chance to make a mark ahead of the new campaign starting. Hearts players are playing for their places and their pride.
“If we get the chance on Sunday, we need to try and prove our point. We want to push ourselves into the team for next year.”