Hearts Women star Beth McKay on 'top notch' Aaron Hughes and Andy Kirk and making history in Kaunas
One is a former Hearts star with more than 130 appearances for the club, the other is an MBE and most-capped British defender of all-time.
Together, Andy Kirk and Aaron Hughes, with their knowledge and experience, make quite the management team. A duo who, despite results on the field, are developing the Hearts Women's team in their first full season back in the top-flight of the game in Scotland.
For Beth McKay she could hardly ask for a better coaching team to develop her.
Speaking to the Hearts Women’s star, it was easy to not only hear the respect and admiration she has for Kirk, who assisted Daniel Stendel during his stint as manager of the men's team, and Hughes – but also the excitement of working under them.
Learning something new
"The training is top notch,” McKay, who joined the club from Spartans in January, told the Evening News. “Having two quality coaches in Andy Kirk and Aaron Hughes, both ex-professional, both international experience as well. It’s amazing.
"I feel like every training session you learn something new.
"I’m 24, I’ve been training in the Premier League for six, seven years now and still I’m learning something every training session. You wouldn’t really expect that at this level but they’ve just got so much knowledge that they are able to pass on to us, it’s amazing.
“They have so much knowledge. Not just as coaches, but from playing as well.
"Aaron is the most capped British defender. Having him on your coaching staff and at training every night to help you is unbelievable. Not even just as a defensive perspective.
"For me as an attacker, him telling me what is difficult to defend against is unreal.”
The team have had a sobering moments, with a 10-0 defeat to Celtic and 6-0 reverse to Hibs, and sit bottom of the league but it has been an important staging post with the aim of becoming a regular presence in SWPL 1.
There have been highs, most notably a win over Hibs in the first derby of the campaign, and McKay believes they are on the right path under Kirk and Hughes.
The intricacies of SWPL 1, which now has a weekly highlights show on BBC Scotland, are such that there is a disparity between those in the upper echelons of the league and those below. Celtic and Rangers are professional, while there is the might of Glasgow City.
Without relegation due to the league expanding from next season, it allows Hearts to consolidate.
Competing, winning and scoring more
"It’s definitely been a tough season back in the Premier League but with Andy and Aaron their main focus with us is keep improving every week and build on performances so we keep getting better,” McKay said.
"From next season we can compete more, especially with two new teams coming into SWPL1, we should be competing and winning and scoring more goals next season if everything goes to plan.
“It was always going to be tough for the rest of the teams to compete when only three teams are handing out professional contracts. While there have been those big score lines there have been a few shocks. These teams becoming professional is only going to help promote and encourage more young women to get into football knowing that at he end of the day they could make a living out of it.”
Football to futsal
McKay, a former Stirling University and Hibs player, is an interesting case in that football isn’t her only discipline. She also excels at futsal, Fifa's indoor sport, which has a stop clock and roll on substitutes and is more tactical with a focus on set pieces.
Earlier this month she was part of the Northern Ireland squad – qualifying through her grandmother – to achieve the country’s first ever competitive win in the sport. And it was achieved in Kaunas of all places, the Lithuanian city which had such close ties to Hearts for so many years.
It is believed she could well have been the first Hearts representative to visit the city since Bryan Jackson, the club’s former administrator.
While the team suffered defeats to Serbia and Slovakia, McKay, who hadn't trained with her team-mates prior to the European Championship qualifiers, played in the nervy 1-0 win over Lithuania.
"We could have won by a lot more,” she said. “We were definitely the more controlled team and had more opportunities but it was the nervousness as well.
"When we were going forward we were hesitant to not concede because futsal is so fast-paced you can be scoring one minute and conceding seconds later.
"A 1-0 win in futsal is quite rare. It’s a very high-scoring game. It was an unreal feeling. They had all their fans there."
McKay became somewhat of a viral hit in certain circles within the women’s game when she inadvertently took one for the team late on in the Lithuania win, stopping a free-kick with her face.
“We were winning, two minutes to go and we conceded a free-kick outside the box,” she recalled.
"I don’t really remember much of it. I just remember our goalkeeper Alice saying stand tall, don’t jump. I’m 5’2’ so was laughing a wee bit.
"The next thing I’m standing there, eyes closed and got a ball to the face. I’ve watched it back and my head snaps back, falling over and people are catching me. It’s quite funny looking back but pretty scary at the time as I thought I was concussed.
"I sat down for a minute and both my nostrils started bleeding and my lip started bleeding. I just wanted the game to be over to celebrate the win.
"It was a pretty emotional time sitting on the bench for the last two minutes.”