IT SAYS much for the rapidly maturing Jamie Walker that he is happy being considered one of Hearts’ more experienced players at the tender age of 20. Academy graduates even younger than him are creating an impression at senior level and Walker is more than willing to lend them the benefit of his experience.
He has 65 first-team appearances to his name, including a productive loan spell at Raith Rovers, and is a regular in one of the youngest teams in Tynecastle history. While he has learned significantly about life on the pitch, Walker’s development is just as evident off it. He is more comfortable talking to media and fans having established himself as a regular fixture under manager Gary Locke.
Recent months have tested all involved with Hearts following the onset of administration in June. Walker, pictured right, and so many others have had to learn on their feet, promoted to roles as senior statesmen before their teenage years had ended. Now, as frosty mornings become the norm, they are warming to the task and embracing their roles as ambassadors for a club still fighting for its very existence.
“I’m probably one of the more experienced ones now so I can try to give the others a bit of help and let them know what’s going on,” said Walker, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“It is bizarre saying that at 20, but obviously we’ve had to grow up quick. I’ve played a few games in the first team now and people expect a bit more from me. I’m happy to take that on my shoulders.”
Coping with public demands and expectation is one of the most challenging aspects of first-team life for a fresh-faced academy pupil. That will again surface this weekend, when Ross County visit Tynecastle for the resumption of the Premiership. Hearts need a win to reduce their 13-point deficit at the bottom of the league, but that very situation creates a pressure-cooker environment.
“It’s hard, but we’re playing for a big club like Hearts and that pressure is going to come with it,” said Walker. “We just need to deal with it.
“We had a bit of a hard time lately and didn’t win for eight games in the league, so to go up to Aberdeen and score three goals and win 3-1 the other week has given us a massive boost. If we can get three points against Ross County, we’ll be right back in it again.”
Last time Hearts entered a must-win home fixture was last month when St Mirren left Tynecastle with full points. “We need to guard against that. We beat Aberdeen away so people will be expecting a bit more,” continued Walker. “We’ll probably be favourites to beat Ross County, but we need to try and do a bit better against them than last time up in Dingwall.
“We played well that day and should have got the three points, but ended up losing 2-1. That defeat started our bad run.
“We can’t just perform once every five games. We need to go at it against Ross County and aim to win. It was a hard one to take losing up there, but you get those things in football sometimes and you just need to move on.”
Walker’s own form touched the heights two weeks ago at Aberdeen to the point where Locke singled him out for praise in the Pittodrie dressing room.
“I’d done quite well and got a bit of praise, which was nice. The manager will tell me if I’ve not done so well as well,” said the winger.
“I don’t really milk it if I get praise, but if there are newspapers sitting about the dressing room then you might get a bit of stick.
“Some folk will say you’re the gaffer’s boy and stuff like that. That’s just something you need to deal with. It’s all a laugh and a joke, but come a Saturday we know we need to be serious.”