As if this season hadn’t been challenging enough for Jamie Walker already, an untimely broken metatarsal came along and threw another mental test his way.
Until sustaining his injury, in the dying stages of the 1-0 home defeat by Motherwell in January, the winger had been one of the young players used most prominently during a particularly testing first half of the season for Hearts.
While there was talk around the turn of the year of Hearts’ youngsters being in need of a rest, two weeks cooped up in the house with his foot in plaster wasn’t what Walker had in mind. It’s safe to say the last two months have been somewhat demoralising for a player who, for periods in the season, had been Hearts’ most dangerous attacker.
“It’s never good being injured, especially not for this length of time, but it’s part and parcel of the game so you just need to deal with it,” he said. “I did my knee when I was young but this is probably the worst injury I’ve had, so it’s not been great.
“It was just a tackle with Stevie Hammell towards the end of the Motherwell game and I went over my ankle. I knew pretty soon after it happened I’d done some damage because I got the ball just after that and I couldn’t move.
“I had the scan the following week and found out I’d done my metatarsal. It’s not great at the time when you find out you’re out for ten weeks but after a few weeks you get used to it and just have to get on with it.
“I got a few weeks off when it first happened but I was on the crutches so I wasn’t able to do much. I was just sitting about the house playing FIFA and stuff. I’d never been on crutches before so that was horrible. Thankfully, I wasn’t on them for too long but then my foot was in the boot for six weeks and that wasn’t great either.”
Now back running, he sees light at the end of the tunnel and is hopeful of being back for the home clash with Hibs a fortnight on Sunday. For a young boy still trying to prove himself at the club he loves, a two-month lay-off has been far from ideal. “It’s a frustrating time because when you’re young you just want to play all the time,” he continued.
“I’ve been in at Riccarton every day trying to get fit but you come in and want to be out training with the rest of the boys.
“It’s hard to get motivated sometimes but you just have to try and keep going knowing that you’ll get there in the end.”
Metatarsal injuries used to, it seemed, be associated exclusively with the England national team, as the likes of David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen first made that particular bone infamous. But, remarkably, Walker was struck down by the injury just weeks after colleague and long-time friend Jason Holt had also suffered a broken metatarsal.
“Jason had the exact same injury, just with the other foot – it’s crazy,” said Walker. “He had to go through the exact same recovery as me but I actually got the boot off before him, so I was a wee bit quicker than him. It’s sore at the start and you can’t put any weight on it so it’s not nice.”
In Walker’s absence, Sam Nicholson, 18 months his junior, has come into the side and flourished. While Walker knows he will face a battle to get back into the team, he is excited by the amount of young attacking and creative options now beginning to emerge at the club, with Callum Paterson, David Smith, Holt and Dale Carrick also showing signs that they are ready for the demands of first-team football.
Walker said: “Sam’s been playing very well and it was good for the team that he came in.
“They’ve been playing well apart from the last few games. With Sam coming in, when me, Jason and David Smith are all back and fully fit, it will give the gaffer a few more options. Hopefully, next season we can get all the off-field problems sorted and get a few fresh faces in and then kick on from there. Everyone’s played a good few games now, so wherever we are next season we can’t use the excuse that we’re young and inexperienced next season.”
As he steps up his fightback from injury, Walker is eager to finish this demanding campaign with a flourish. “It’s been a hard season – I’ve had some good games and some bad games,” he said.
“I’ve scored a few goals and now I’ve had the injury so it’s all about getting back playing. I just want to get a few more games under my belt.”
Jamie Walker was promoting the Hearts Players’ Player of the Year and HYDC Young player of the Year Awards dinner, which is to be held at the Gorgie Suite on the evening of Saturday, April 26. Tickets cost £65 per person and include a three-course meal, cash bar, guest speaker (Tam Cowan), raffle, auction and seven awards throughout the evening. For details, call 0131 200 7290.