Ross Callachan has served an extensive apprenticeship. He’s dreamt the youth academy dream at Raith Rovers, come through soulless reserve matches and even a loan spell at Musselburgh juniors. Promotion to the big stage has been hard-earned, and for this midfielder the stage doesn’t get much bigger.
He meets the Evening News at Murrayfield, where Hearts will host home matches for the next two months whilst Tynecastle’s £12million main stand is completed. The stadium is vast, an expansive bowl-type ground which seats 67,000 people normally watching rugby. It is a far cry from Olivebank, or the youth pitches Callachan used to train on. Or Stark’s Park, for that matter.
The player is speaking on his 24th birthday having just received the greatest present he could have wished for. Signing a two-year contract with the club he supported since childhood was akin to the holy grail. It is an achievement Callachan has worked long and hard for.
When times were tough, he stubbornly refused to be beaten. Even after being left out of Raith’s 2014 Ramsden’s Cup final squad, he stuck steadfastly to his mantra that hard work would bring rewards such as this. Indeed, the last few days have seen him mulling over career highlights and low points, all of which have combined to bring him to Hearts.
Perhaps one factor was more pivotal than the rest. “I remember when Raith played Rangers in the Challenge Cup final in and I was dropped from the squad. That moment was my hardest in football,” he said. “I felt I should’ve been involved but I wasn’t. They went on and won the trophy, which was an amazing thing for the club, but at the time I was a bit upset. I found it hard to take. You can either let it affect you or you can move on and use it. I think I did the latter. It made me think about my career a lot, made me get my head down and work even harder. Things have been on the way up since then.
“I got pulled right before the game by Grant Murray. I’ve great respect for him. He had a decision to make and he made it. Unfortunately, me and another boy were the ones who got the left out. That made me a lot stronger and made me want to work harder. It definitely spurred me on.”
That disappointment spurred him on to this, the chance to prove himself worthy of the maroon shirt he has for so long adored. It has been a long journey through youth, reserve and junior football.
“I’ve been reminiscing a wee bit about my career over the last few days. I’ve thought back to youth games, breaking into the first team, signing my contract, being a regular and then getting the Raith captaincy just a few weeks ago,” said Callachan.
“This is another step forward in my career. I was young at the time I was on loan in the juniors. I was always positive, telling myself if I keep working I’d make the Raith first team. I felt I could make that step. Now I’ve got a good move.
“Playing in the Premiership was the main thing for me but it’s the cherry on top of the cake with it being Hearts and me being a fan. It couldn’t be any more ideal for me. I’m an Edinburgh lad so I don’t need to travel an hour to get to training any more, either.”
Callachan is expected to make his Hearts debut against Aberdeen this weekend at the home of Scottish Rugby. For all the endeavour to get here, he acknowledges the Tynecastle employees who recommended him for the step up from League One to Ladbrokes Premiership.
“I think I was put forward by Gary Locke [Hearts’ principal ambassador], Liam Fox and Jon Daly [both first-team coaches]. I played with Liam and Jon and I think they liked me and thought I could make this step. Playing under Gary Locke last year, he really liked me as well and I did well under him. Hopefully they recognise I’ve got a good attitude and I’ll work really hard for Hearts. They knew I wanted to play at a higher level from speaking to me, so I think I’m a good fit for Hearts. I think this has come at the right time. I’m at the right age.”
Raith’s relegation from Championship to League one at the end of last season left Callachan two divisions below where he aspired to be.
“I could have stayed at Raith Rovers as captain because I was in my comfort zone there. It would have been a chance to win a league but I’ve always wanted to challenge myself,” he said. “I’m out of that comfort zone here because I walked into the Hearts dressing room not knowing anybody. I just see that as a challenge.
“I can’t wait to get to Tynecastle but, in the meantime you can’t ask for a better setting than this. It will be a big occasion playing at in this ground and we just need to thrive on it.”
He has only visited Murrayfield once in his life. “I was at the Barca game here but I was young at the time.” He was in fact in his early teens, dreaming of emulating those he was watching, like Lee Wallace, Michael Stewart and Christophe Berra. Ten years later, that same stage is now his.