Hearts fans should be excited at the arrival of new striker Conor Sammon, according to the club’s record league goal scorer and man who plucked him from part-time football in Ireland.
John Robertson signed Sammon when manager of Derry City, and worked with him at Kilmarnock after Jim Jefferies brought the player to Scotland on Robertson’s recommendation.
After five years down south with Wigan Athletic and Derby County respectively, Sammon returned north to sign a three-year deal at Tynecastle last week. Older, wiser and with some stability in Scotland, Robertson reckons the circumstances are right for Sammon to be a big success in maroon.
“He’s done it the right way,” said Robertson. “He started off at UCD [University College Dublin] and worked his way through part-time to Derry City, over to Kilmarnock and then down to Wigan and Derby. He’s played in England now and has got loads of experience. He probably needs this opportunity to just settle himself down, know exactly what he’s going to be doing for the next three years and just concentrate totally on his Hearts career.
“He’s a big, strong, powerful lad and he’s only 29, so he’s got lots of games and lots of years left in him, and I think Hearts fans should be quite excited at the prospect.”
Robertson didn’t get the chance to work with Sammon, pictured above, after signing him for Derry, leaving the club after arranging the transfer. The front man’s performances for UCD against the Candystripes were enough to convince Robertson of Sammon’s ability, however. “He played against us for UCD at Derry a few times and did really, really well. He was exactly what we were needing so I spoke to Jim Roddy, the Derry chairman at the time and said ‘look, I want to try and sign this guy’. I spoke to him a couple of times on the phone and he was very keen to come and the terms were done.
“Unfortunately for myself I never got to physically meet him or see him play as over the summer the board decided to bring Stephen Kenny back as manager. He did really well though and scored a hat-trick in the cup final for Derry. Jim Jefferies then phoned me and said he had the chance to sign him for Kilmarnock, and I told him to bite their hand off.”
Samson will likely battle it out with Juanma to be Robbie Neilson’s first choice striker, although the Irishman’s attributes means Robertson can see no reason why they can’t play together. “On the pitch he’s strong, he’s quick and he’s powerful – a real team player,” he explained. “Off the pitch, in the times I’ve spoken to him he comes across as a real nice guy. He was a young lad then, now he’s more experience and I’m looking forward to catching up with him!
“Juanma likes to come shorter more often than Conor, who likes to go the other way with the ball in behind. He likes to play on the defenders’ shoulder and I think that’s one of the reasons Robbie targeted him. He wants someone who can run in behind and stretch defences, allowing the space to develop in front, so he’s ideal for that.”
Robertson believes Sammon’s arrival can only benefit his Spanish team-mate. “I think the competition for places will get the best out of Juanma,” he stated. “He started last season on fire and blitzed a few goals early doors. I’m sure he’ll do the same again, but he’ll have to be consistent because Conor Sammon will put pressure on him for his place and that’s what you want.
“It may well be that early on that he has a specific role - maybe Conor away from home and Juanma at home or vice-versa, it’ll depend on how the draw goes. There’s potentially six competitive games before the league season starts. If we’re lucky enough to qualify for the Europa League group stages and you do get to the Thursday-Sunday aspect of games then you need a big, big squad. I’m sure Robbie will get a few in early and then sit back, happy for the window to close and then see what’s about.”
• John Robertson was speaking at the McDonald’s & Scottish FA Community Football Day, encouraging youngsters to play football and celebrating Quality Mark clubs in the Edinburgh area. Visitwww.mcdonalds.co.uk/betterplay