Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin reveals he is praying for a Hibs rival as Australia prepare for World Cup kick-off

World Cup memories are vivid for Cammy Devlin. Early alarm calls to gather in the living-room and watch Australia play at Brazil 2014 lit a fire within the Hearts midfielder which still burns hotter than the Qatar sun.

He is now part of the Socceroos squad preparing for Tuesday, when Group D opens against world champions France in the Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah. Footballing platforms simply don’t get any more grandiose. Devlin knows he is literally living a dream played out in his head countless times since childhood.

“I remember my dad waking me and my brother up with an alarm to get up and go into the living room together,” he recalled. “The thought of actually being there is so surreal, it still hasn't sunk in yet. The World Cup is probably the pinnacle of any sport.

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“I don’t need to name the players we have the potential to face. Everyone knows how good they are. They are some of the best players in the world. It’s just mental to think I could be sharing a pitch with them. I want to go and enjoy the experience as much as I can because you don’t know how often this is going to happen.

“At the same time, I want to play and I want to play well and I want to win with the Socceroos. I want to surprise people. I think that’s what our mentality will be. We’ll be the underdogs and we’ll wear that tag. We’ve just got to enjoy that experience as well.”

Known for a tenacious style since joining Hearts from Newcastle Jets in summer 2021, Devlin must alter his style somewhat for international football. Competition for midfield berths is ferocious with Australia. He only earned his first senior cap two months ago in a friendly against New Zealand, which proved enough to catapult him into the final 26-man World Cup squad. A possession-based gameplan and tactical triggers will heavily influence the thinking of Australia coach Graham Arnold.

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“I think you have no choice but to adapt,” said Devlin. “Our first game is coming up quickly against France. If they are on their game – and they usually are – it is going to be very hard. It will be a completely different type of game than I’m used to, not only in Europe but with Hearts in the Scottish league. We always have a good gameplan as a national team. I’m sure it will be tough, but it will be a great experience. If we can get a result against them it would be massive.”

Australia’s chances of causing a major upset increase significantly if the Hibs forward Martin Boyle is fit enough to play. A knee injury sustained last month threatens his participation in Qatar and hitherto has prevented him training. The Melbourne City winger Marco Tilio was flown out to the Arab state as a precaution on Monday in case Arnold needs a last-minute replacement before the France match.

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Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin is eager to make an impact at the World Cup with Australia.

“It would be huge if he [Boyle] makes it,” admitted Devlin. “If you watched any of the qualifiers you would see how good a player he is. He’s a great player for Hibs and he is my rival here in Scotland but we put that aside. For the national team he is such an important player. We need him fit and raring to go. I know he went over early to get ready, so hopefully he will be.”

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Devlin spoke to his Easter Road counterpart after hearing of the injury. “You do worry if he is going to make it at that stage. I obviously didn’t know if I would be picked at that stage, but I spoke to him to make sure he was okay. As much as he is a rival when he plays for Hibs, I care about him. I want him to be with the Socceroos because that’s what we need. I made sure he was okay, he said he was fine, he was just focused on getting himself ready.”

Boyle’s wellbeing wasn’t the only health issue on Devlin’s mind recently. Hearts colleagues Kye Rowles and Nathaniel Atkinson only just recovered from ankle and foot injuries respectively in time to make the Australia squad. “It’s been very stressful to be honest,” said the midfielder. “Seeing Kye and Natty as well because he got his injury against Fiorentina, seeing them in the gym and how hard they’ve been working in the gym, you can see how hard they are working just for the chance to be called up. Seeing Natty play and Kye come on and do so well was so good. It was so good for his confidence that he knew if he was picked he was okay to come on and play [for Hearts].”

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As expected, everyone at Riccarton took great delight in seeing the Australian triumvirate called up. “It was pretty special. The squad was announced at 5am in the morning [UK time], so I was asleep. When I woke up the group chat with all the staff and players was going off, with everyone congratulating all three of us.

“It was super special because the three of us being called up wouldn’t be possible without them. So as much as it is us, and we get to experience it, it is great for everyone at Hearts as well. When we came in everyone was so happy. Hugs all round for all three of us.

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“Craig [Gordon] had a word with us and he is so happy for us. He would have loved to experience this. I think for any player in the world to have the chance to go to the World Cup is crazy. It is something you dream of. For it to be actually happening now is surreal.”