JORDAN McGHEE’S reappearance with Hearts last week completed a rapid recovery from the most horrific experience of his fledgling career. The teenager has relived the trauma of his handball at Aberdeen and revealed how he told head coach Robbie Neilson the very next morning that he wouldn’t let it affect him.
It is a tribute to his strength of character that he is mentally restored less than three weeks later. He found himself back in the starting line-up for last Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Dundee United. The determination to get out on the pitch again and banish some demons will be a useful trait as he strives to become a first-team regular at Tynecastle.
McGhee headed straight to Neilson’s office at Riccarton first thing on the morning of Sunday, December 13. He spent the night before replaying the moment he leapt to handle Kenny McLean’s cross at Pittodrie earlier that day, which gifted Aberdeen a match-winning penalty three minutes from time.
The youngster basically had two choices: Curl up and retreat into a shell until all the furore went away, or stick his chest out and confront the issue head on. He chose the latter. He knocked on Neilson’s door to declare his appetite to fight on regardless.
“I slept on it and came in the next day,” he told the Evening News in a candid interview. “I just felt that, if you ask any defender who plays at the top level if they’ve made mistakes like that, they’ll tell you it’s happened many times. It’s another part of my learning curve.
“I spoke to Robbie and I told him: ‘I’m going to make mistakes, I’m a defender and it’s going to happen.’ He was a defender and he agreed. He said he’d made many mistakes. There was no point sitting dwelling on it. I said that I’m ready for the weekend and I’m going to learn from it. He said he thought it would be best to leave me out for a wee while. He said he was going to take me out and bring Juwon [Oshaniwa] back in. He felt it was the right thing to do after what happened but he said he’d keep me out for a few weeks and then he’d get me back in.
“I knew he would stick to that. I was delighted to get back in on Wednesday night. It was a bit earlier than expected but he brought me back in, which I’m really happy about and I thought I did well. I showed I’ve just bounced back from what happened and I want to keep doing that.
“The way I’ve looked at it is, if you make your mistakes early in your career, you’ll cut them out early. If you can get all the blunders out of the way at the start then you’ll have a better career because of it and be a better person for it.”
The mature approach is increasingly typical of a player who looks and acts nothing like a 19-year-old. The support of family, coaches and team-mates played a significant part in helping him recover so quickly from an error which would have destroyed lesser players.
“Even through the hard time, all the coaches, players, the gaffer, Stevie Crawford and my family were all great with me. It happens in football,” continued McGhee. “Robbie was great with me, even right after the game. Everyone was really good with me, even the fans. Some of them have a bit too much to say for themselves but the majority of the fans were great with me and I’m thankful for that.”
He was left out of the starting line-up against Kilmarnock on Saturday but McGhee’s versatility means he can operate anywhere along the back line.
“I’ve played everywhere in the back four this season. In fact, I think the only positions I haven’t played are left mid and up front. I feel I’ve done well with some good performances in those positions. Hopefully, in time, Robbie will have enough belief in me to make me number-one choice in one of the positions.”