Josh Ginnelly discusses Hearts contract talks, beating Covid 19, plus his relationship with Robbie Neilson

Josh Ginnelly conquers for fun. He beats opposing full-backs, centre-halves, goalkeepers, even Covid-19. His next challenge is to earn a permanent Hearts contract.

By Barry Anderson
Tuesday, 19th January 2021, 7:00 am
On-loan Hearts winger Josh Ginnelly is pushing towards full fitness.
On-loan Hearts winger Josh Ginnelly is pushing towards full fitness.

Four goals in eight appearances indicate that the Preston North End loanee is just what the Edinburgh club need. Returning from coronavirus isolation at Alloa on Saturday, his cameo on the left flank contained most of his repertoire – pace, skill and a well-taken goal.

Explosive wing play is Ginnelly’s forte. Hearts have regenerated his self-belief hoping he can inspire their automatic promotion quest and then convert that loan into a permanent transfer.

Talks have already begun and the 23-year-old is now back on the pitch proving himself an evermore-valued commodity. He still not fully fit but if Covid can’t beat him, what chance Scottish Championship defenders?

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“I got quite a bad strain of Covid. My hips, back and hamstrings were really sore,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview. “When I came back in, we just wanted to do little tester runs.

“We have great staff and they get things right. They don't push you too much but, at the same time, you're still working hard. They've built me back up to be able to come on a pitch on Saturday. It was great to be out there again.

“I've been quite unlucky with what's gone on. I did my quad, came back in, ended up out again, worked hard to get myself fit, then got Covid. It's just been start-stop so my main aim at the moment is just to get as much game time as I can to build myself up.”

Manage the workload

Indeed, fitness issues mean he has only completed 90 minutes once since arriving in Scotland in September. There is much desire at Riccarton for him to enjoy an injury-free period between now and the end of the season. Hearts will manage his workload carefully.

“I'm not at full fitness but I'm ready to go. Over the next two or three games, I'll feel I'm there again,” said Ginnelly. “I'm in a good mindset, I've got a good understanding with the manager. We know when to push it and when not to. As long as I'm ready on a Saturday, it doesn't matter.”

He was certainly ready on Saturday in Clackmannanshire. Ginnelly replaced Elliott Frear after 65 minutes with Hearts 2-0 ahead. He blames himself for not retaining possession seconds before Alloa halved the deficit but the winger atoned in the perfect way.

His calmly-taken breakaway goal moments later secured a 3-1 final scoreline. It also illustrated his speed, ability to evade an opponent and composure near goal. Of course, the Alloa goalkeeper Neil Parry not being present helped a bit.

“I knew the keeper had gone forward so when the ball broke out to me I knew all I needed to do was beat the man [Steven Hetherington]. I just had to knock it past him.

Learn from mistake

“I'm lucky to get a goal because I cost us a goal. It felt good to score and put us all at ease because it was my fault for the goal we lost. It was a just a mistake, it happens. I'm not bothered now because the game is done. I've just got to learn from that and not do it again.”

So what of those contract talks? Ginnelly’s loan deal expires at the end of the season concurrent with his Preston contract. He will be a free agent and is interested in joining Hearts permanently.

“We've just had normal conversations so we'll see what the future holds,” he said. “I love it here, I love being in this group with my team-mates and the staff as well. Everyone is on board with what the manager and the hierarchy are trying to do with the club. It's a great place to play.”

His relationship with manager Robbie Neilson will be a key factor in the final decision. “He's been perfect for me. When I first came up here I was in quite a bad mindset,” explained Ginnelly.

“My confidence wasn't really there because I hadn't played in the last two years. He has looked after me, put no pressure on me, so I've just got to repay him with goals to win us games.

“He's got a great understanding because he was a player himself. Sometimes managers who haven't really had a good career don't know how to deal with different personalities, like what a player needs and what he doesn't need.

“The gaffer has got a perfect balance. He does it with everyone. There isn't one person in the changing room who isn't on board with what we're trying to achieve.”

Healthy competition

Neilson’s options out wide increased last week when Gary Mackay-Steven signed a two-and-a-half-year Hearts contract. He made his debut as a substitute at Alloa as the visitors finished with a dangerous front three of Mackay-Steven, Liam Boyce and Ginnelly.

Elliott Frear, Jordan Roberts and Euan Henderson played from the start, club captain Steven Naismith was an unused substitute, while other forwards like Lewis Moore and Craig Wighton did not make the matchday squad.

“There is healthy competition,” said Ginnelly. “If you go out there and you don't do your job, we all know what happens. There is an understanding of that within the squad. There's no slacking in training, every day is intense and 100 per cent or else you aren't going to play.”

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