Hearts Colts aim to take the biscuit with Tunnock’s Cup win at Waterford
Rebranded as the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup, Scotland’s fourth domestic knockout tournament has been ridiculed more than than the Tories recently. Being named after a biscuit brought plenty derision but none of it from Riccarton.
Hearts Under-21s are in the midst of their longest crusade in this competition and attach more value to it the further they get. Tonight, they are in south east Ireland for a third-round match against senior club Waterford. Andy Kirk’s youngsters are preparing like they are involved in a European tie.
Since the Challenge Cup first welcomed colts teams in 2016 – it was called the slightly-more-respectable Irn-Bru Cup back then – Hearts had only managed to reach the second round. Waterford is literally unchartered waters across the water.
Debates abound about the sponsor and whether Irish, Welsh and English teams should be included. Don’t suggest to anyone at Hearts that this is not a useful tournament deserving of respect, though.
“This is a good experience with the preparations for the game, travelling across, facing a different type of football. In that respect, it’s a good learning tool,” said Kirk. “I’ve got some video footage of Waterford, I’ve spoken to a few people and we have some background on how they play. We will be as prepared as we can.”
The 5,500-capacity Waterford Regional Sports Centre is home to Hearts’ opponents, who sit seventh in the ten-team Irish Premier Division. Like any community sports facility, pitch bookings must be made in advance.
“They gave us three different times and Friday night suited both parties best,” explained Kirk. “We have a wee bit of travelling to do. The flight times allow the boys to get to the hotel and have some lunch, get some rest, then do a last bit of preparation before heading to the stadium.
“In that sense, it’s got a wee bit of a European feel to it in terms of travelling away, so it’s definitely a good thing for the boys. We have managed to get everybody on the same flight going out, although we’re on two different flights coming back.
“We have prepared as well as the first team would. There has been no expense spared in trying to do things right for the players. We’ve done our bit for them, now hopefully they can do their bit. It’s a cup game so you need to win to progress.”
Kirk and his Scottish Reserve Cup holders are entitled to believe they have a fair chance. Most of the squad has played for Hearts first team. Aidan Keena, Callumn Morrison, Harry Cochrane, Anthony McDonald, Connor Smith and Euan Henderson are now regular names on the teamsheet at Tynecastle Park and will be key men this evening.
“When that team is together and performing the way they are capable of, they would be a handful for most teams,” said Kirk. “It’s tough playing a senior team. The wee bit of experience and strength we lack can be a factor but, if our boys are all on their game, we can win the game. We have to be in that frame of mind because I believe we can win.
“They all have to do their jobs. You get punished for mistakes the higher the level you go, but we will be quite a dangerous team for Waterford as well. Getting the ball down is our strength.”