Josh Ginnelly reveals Covid and vaccine issues affected his Hearts progress

Covid 19 vaccination can be a controversial subject these days, particularly among professional sportspeople. At Hearts, Josh Ginnelly remains matter-of-fact about it.

He contracted the virus twice and hasn’t taken any jags. Time off because of self-isolation and recovery left him nearer the back of the queue for starting places. Consequently, he hasn’t impacted this season as much as he intended.

That doesn’t mean the Englishman can’t still influence the final few weeks with a Scottish Cup final on the horizon. Exploding to life at Tannadice on Sunday, he scored a fine goal and tormented opponents all afternoon as a winger-turned-striker.

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Ginnelly’s pace, trickery, goalscoring ability and power for one of small stature make him difficult to combat. His first start since February left him emotionally and physically drained, illustrated by the sight of him bent down stretching calves on two occasions during the second half.

A 3-2 win over Dundee United made it worthwhile. Now he aims to replicate that form over the coming weeks and secure a cup final place to make up for lost time. Like most wingers, he needs a regular first-team place in order to build momentum.

“Yeah, of course. I've had two or three Covid things and I'm not vaccinated,” explained Ginnelly. “I've had well over two weeks off, so that's given other people opportunities to play every game. They've done so well.

“I'm not going to start complaining but I'm more delighted with what the boys have done this season. Having been in the Championship, coming up this year, we haven't looked out of place once.

“I'm fine, really. It's more the case that I've missed training sessions and I've missed games. I've just been in and out because of Covid. It is what it is. I'm all about the team. I just want to see us go on to this next game against Ross County, win that and take every game into the final.”

Josh Ginnelly scored for Hearts at Tannadice on Sunday.

Sunday’s goal was his fourth of the campaign and the first not scored against St Johnstone. Ginnelly has made 33 appearances for Hearts this term despite interruptions through illness. Naturally, he craves more frequent involvement in the starting line-up.

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Asked about his first start for more than two months, he gave a slight smirk. “I didn't even know that. I stay prepared and work on myself, like all the other boys who haven't been playing. It's all about professionalism.

“It was good. I was just delighted to get out there. I got my goal and we keep moving. Playing centrally is different but it's another string to my bow. I'm just an out-and-out winger but when called upon you need to do it for the team.”

And how are the calves now? “They're absolutely gone. When you don't play for a while and you don't get that 90 minutes in, it's tough to go out there against a good side and keep going. My game is running. You can do as much running as you want off the pitch but on the pitch is different.”

Josh Ginnelly celebrates putting Hearts 2-1 ahead at Dundee United.
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Hearts fell behind to Dylan Levitt’s early goal before Liam Boyce’s equaliser. In the second half, Ginnelly dribbled past the United goalkeeper Ben Siegrist to put his team ahead, however Ryan Edwards then produced a sumptuous strike to level the scoreline again.

Substitute Ellis Simms decided the match with a powerful finish, extending Hearts’ unbeaten run to nine games and putting them 19 points clear of fourth-placed United in the Premiership table.

“We had a rocky first 15 minutes but we showed good character how we reacted to it,” said Ginnelly. “It's tough going into the split when you've already got Europe and you’re through to the cup final.

“Some people would just say: 'Sweet, we don't have to win. It's fine.' But I think it's important we keep the mentality we've had all season and we showed that because United are a good side.

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“Obviously that motivation comes from the gaffer but from within yourself anyway. I don't know many footballers who wouldn't want to win a game, whether it's a league game, a friendly or a nothing game. You still want to win.”

Winning maintains a collective momentum ahead of the Hampden Park showpiece against Rangers on May 21. Even with players of the calibre of John Souttar, Craig Halkett, Stephen Kingsley and Beni Baningime missing through injury, Hearts have sufficient strength in depth to cope.

“We've had one team for quite a while and the boys have done so well,” admitted Ginnelly. “Credit to Joe Savage, the gaffer [Robbie Neilson], Jig [Lee McCulloch] and Gordy [Forrest], they've signed the right players.

“People can go in and effect games. Everybody wants to start in the final but we don't really have individuals. It's all about the team. Whether you play one minute or 90, everybody is together. As we showed in the Hibs semi-final, boys are gutted they haven't started but we were delighted we got over the line.”

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Importantly, there is a concerted effort made by everyone to harness an inclusive mentality within the dressing room at Riccarton.

“I don't know the other changing rooms but we have unbelievable boys in our group,” said Ginnelly. “You never feel apart from it because everybody is together. If the gaffer changes it in the final, nobody is going to be raging. It's all about the team. That has been implemented this season.”

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