CALLUM TAPPING knows the responsibility facing one of the youngest Hearts squads in history. He isn’t frightened by it. In fact, the 20-year-old midfielder cited it as motivation for the new season and today challenged his colleagues to become men as they try to overhaul a 15-point deficit in the league.
Administration at Tynecastle has left a clutch of academy graduates doing the jobs of grown-ups, save a for a select few established names like Jamie MacDonald, Ryan Stevenson and Jamie Hamill. Even the recently-appointed club captain, Danny Wilson, is just 21. All other mainstays have gone due to cost-cutting.
Tapping doesn’t see the lack of experience as daunting. He has only made 16 senior appearances to date since joining Hearts from Tottenham Hotspur’s youth academy two years ago, but he is confident that the youngsters now dominating the first-team squad can fulfil their promise.
“Last season we got drafted in slowly and now we’ve come in, we have to step up because we’re not really young players in the squad any more,” he said. “We have to step up and be counted.
“I think last season was good for us with the boys getting the games they did because that puts us in good stead for this season. We’ve got more young boys coming through this season and everyone is buzzing for the start. Everyone is looking forward to the challenge and we will do what we can do to make up the points difference. All the boys are motivated by this minus 15 points. All we can do is give our best performances every week and try and push on.”
Their case is aided slightly by the expertise imparted from some elder statesmen, albeit ones who cannot assist on the field of play. Christophe Berra and Gary Naysmith are training at Riccarton after leaving Aberdeen and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively at the end of last season.
Berra is 28, whilst Naysmith is now 34 and in the twilight of his career. Both players harbour English Premier League and international experience, which the Hearts manager Gary Locke hopes can rub off on his youthful squad.
“As young boys, all we can do is benefit from players like that,” said Tapping.
Seeing both John Robertson and Billy Brown return to Hearts to work for free has also had an uplifting effect on the players, according to Tapping. “I know of Robbo – he is a legend at Hearts. All the boys are looking forward to his coaching and we’ll take it from there. I think all the boys here, especially the younger boys, looking up to legends like him can only benefit from his experience and coaching.
“Billy has been brilliant with us too. Billy has been at top clubs and has been around so it’s great to learn from him.”
Perhaps one of the biggest influences on Tapping’s recent development came away from Tynecastle during last season’s loan spell at Alloa. There, he came under the guidance of another Hearts icon, Paul Hartley. “It was a good experience,” he recalled. “Paul Hartley played in my position in midfield so it was great experience to learn from him and take his coaching points on board.
“I spoke to him the other day at the Hearts fans’ rally and I congratulated him on getting promoted.”
Tapping is likely to be involved in this afternoon’s friendly between Hearts and Dunfermline at East End Park, the proceeds of which are being split evenly to help the finances of both clubs.
“It’s brilliant, the gate is being split 50/50 and the fans have been brilliant with us. Hopefully it’s a full turn out again,” said Tapping.