His long-awaited return to action may have come too late to save Hearts from League Cup final heartache and bottom-six drudgery, but Jamie Hamill’s bullish enthusiasm is exactly what his beleaguered team need right now as they bid to wring out some semblance of pride from a sorry season.
In conversation ahead of a likely return to the starting line-up against Ross County today, he utters phrases such as “I’m ready to give 110 per cent” and “you’ve got to just fire into it”. A year out with a ruptured cruciate ligament clearly hasn’t diluted the competitive spirit which made him one of the fittest and most tigerish right-backs in the SPL with Kilmarnock and, subseqently, Hearts.
Indeed, while the Tynecastle team have at times this season appeared to lack the necessary fire in their bellies, Hamill showed the type of feisty character they will welcome back into their midst when he picked up a yellow card for an expletive-ridden show of dissent in a recent Under-20 match against Ross County.
For a man who just loves being in the thick of battle, he was delighted to end his long lay-off as a substitute in last weekend’s SPL defeat at Aberdeen. The prospect of a first Tynecastle outing in over a year today will see the end of a hellish journey for the Ayrshire boy. “I’m ready to start against County if called upon,” he said. “I’ve been training for the last five or six weeks, so I’m feeling fit. I’ve played three Under-20s games now, but it was a lot harder on my lungs at Pittodrie. I felt good though.
“I always knew it was going to be towards the end of the season before I returned but the incentive of playing in front of a great support at Tynecastle definitely helped get me through.”
Hamill returns to a beleaguered side preparing for the ignominy of only their second bottom-six finish since the inception of the SPL split. Hearts are likely to be joined in the lower echelons by other traditional big clubs such as Hibs, Aberdeen and Dundee United, while smaller clubs such as Inverness, Ross County and St Johnstone make hay in the top half.
Hamill, who has watched closely from the sidelines, believes budgets are largely irrelevant in the SPL and feels the race for top-six places has simply boiled down to which teams have been more clinical in front of goal and who has found momentum at the right time. “It’s a tough league,” he said. “Midway through the season, we were only two or three wins away from second or third place. People will look at it and say the big teams are all at the bottom, but it’s more because the teams round about us are doing so well and just being that bit more clinical in front of goal. The likes of County and Inverness have shown that you don’t have to have the biggest budget in the league to do well.
“The key things is taking your chances and we’ve not done that. It’s not about budgets and stuff like that; it’s about what happens when you cross the white line and unfortunately it’s not happened for us in front of goal. It’s not like we’ve not been creating chances.”
While Hamill is philosophical about Hearts being rooted in the bottom six, he knows that, even allowing for the obvious restraints brought about by the club’s financial difficulties, a repeat of this campaign next time round won’t be tolerated by supporters. “I don’t know what’s going to happen over the summer but it would be good to see some fresh faces coming in to bolster the squad,” he continued. “We’ve got quite a lot of young boys coming through, which is good for the club, but I think you need to mix youth with experience. Hopefully we can do that and then look forward to next season.
“We can’t be sitting in the same place next season. A club of Hearts’ stature can’t be down in 11th place; we need to be top six, pushing for titles and getting good runs in the cup. Why we can we not go back to the Scottish Cup final or the League Cup final? This is a massive club. The only way is up.”