Hearts winger Josh Ginnelly explains injury complexity, opens up on Twitter love and recalls wild day at Wembley

Josh Ginnelly’s strong point appears to be timing – on the pitch and off it.

By Mark Atkinson
Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 7:00 am
Josh Ginnelly celebrates his goal to make it 6-1 for Hearts against Queen of the South.
Josh Ginnelly celebrates his goal to make it 6-1 for Hearts against Queen of the South.

The Hearts winger’s forte is knowing when to make runs, when to attack full-backs, stretch the play and get in behind defences, using his acceleration to great affect. He gave a glimpse of what he can offer in a half-hour cameo against Queen of the South last weekend, scoring the final goal in a 6-1 rout following seven months out injured.

With the Scottish Cup final against Celtic now just days away, the likeable 23-year-old Preston North End loanee has burst back into the reckoning at the best possible moment. He is the one player in the Hearts team who has searing pace, that ability to burn past opponents. On an expansive Hampden pitch on Sunday, that commodity is bound to come in handy, especially if Robbie Neilson sets his team up to counter-attack.

It has been a frustrating spell for Ginnelly, who appeared to only suffer a slight thigh injury on October 23 away at Arbroath. The knock was deemed so minor that it was anticipated that he would play some part in the semi-final clash with Hibs eight days later. Alas, he suffered a major setback just days before that match, and has been cold storage until last Saturday.

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The complexity of his injury

Understandably, the smiling Englishman is delighted to be fully fit. "It's great to be back,” Ginnelly told the Evening News. “It was good to get a little run-out before the big game against Celtic. That was always the plan.

"The injury was in the junction where my quad attaches to my hip. At first, we thought I'd be back for the Hibs game, because it was healing very well and I was passing every test that I was asked, and then I came back in and it just went again. I'd got through the whole session, I went to pass the ball and it just went, so it was a setback. We did extra work on it this time around. We did it properly last time, but this time we were probably more cautious with it.

"I knew I was going to come on against Queen of the South, but I didn't know it would be for that amount of time. The more minutes I get in, the best possible shape I'll be in for the Celtic game and the remainder of the season. I felt like I did well."

Indeed he did. He has that X-factor that many players in the Championship lack. He is already a firm favourite with the Hearts fans, who have let him know on social media how much he has been missed and how glad they are to see him back.

Twitter and the fans

"I have felt the love from fans on social media,” he laughed when asked about the adulation. “They tag me in their tweets. But my mum seems to be Hearts' No.1 fan at the minute – she's been sending me everything the fans have been saying and it's good to see that, it's good to feel that as a player, the fans appreciate my ability. All I can do for them is what they want.”

Ginnelly had to painfully watch the derby victory at Hampden from the stands, but has channelled the agony wisely. "I'd done my research on how big the derby was, so to miss that fuelled me to get back fit,” said Ginnelly. “This is a massive club, so every time you're asked to play, the minimum is hard work. The fans, the gaffer and his staff expect quality and that's what I've been brought here to do.”

Wild at Wembley

Allowing himself to look forward to Sunday, Ginnelly continued: "I've never played in a cup final as big as this. I played at Wembley, but this is the one I want to make sure my name is in the spotlight.”

Tell us more about Wembley. "Tranmere, in a play-off final. Luckily we won that, but it was a crazy game, probably the maddest game I've ever had. We got a red card in 35 seconds, but we got over the line and that's all that matters.”

Ginnelly is right, it was a crazy game. In England’s 2018 National League play-off final, Tranmere took on Boreham Wood. The Coventry-born lad was on loan at the Rovers from Preston. A minute in, team-mate Liam Ridehalgh was sent off. Tranmere took the lead, but Ginnelly was subbed after 34 minutes as manager Micky Mellon – now at Dundee United – tried to tighten things up. It worked, as they went on to win 2-1 and gain promotion to the Football League.

That match shows anything is possible. Hearts go into Sunday’s match with quadruple-treble-chasing Celtic as big underdogs, but speaking to Ginnelly, there is a glint in his eye. He feels confident. Certainly at Championship level, he has seen nothing to faze him.

Up against defensive teams

Being injured has allowed him to analyse the rest of Scotland’s second tier. “All I've noticed is that most of the teams we play sit behind the ball and don't really look to score first – it's more if we can break them down,” he remarked. “I think a lot of the teams that come to us – or even when we go to them – it gives them that extra ten yards that they need to run and that's why it sometimes takes us a bit of time to break them down, because they are just working their socks off us to stop us."

Ginnelly has spoken before about staying at the club permanently. He is very settled already in the Capital. "I love Edinburgh. I've had my family up as well, so that's made it a bit sweeter. Obviously when we are out of this [coronavirus] situation, it'll probably get even better.”

Or if Hearts win the cup. Even in semi-lockdown, there will be a party. Ginnelly will hope to spark one.

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