There is an endearing honesty about Colin Doyle which makes you root for him. The Hearts goalkeeper has endured emotional turmoil since that error at Motherwell in February. Yet he still believes in his ability to become No.1 at Tynecastle Park and refuses to give up the pursuit.
The 33-year-old Irishman made his first appearance since Motherwell last Friday as Hearts lost 2-1 at Aberdeen. Memories of the David Turnbull free-kick which bounced off his shoulder and spun into the net three months previously have been compartmentalised in his mind - although the torture is clear when he recalls the error which brought him to tears.
Doyle feels aggrieved he did not get the chance to atone. Dropped in favour of Zdenek Zlamal the following week when Hearts hosted St Mirren, he felt his record of six clean sheets in ten appearances since dislodging the Czech last December merited another opportunity. Manager Craig Levein disagreed and Zlamal was reinstated.
Doyle harbours no grudge. Having made peace with himself, his motivation is to reclaim that goalkeeping place and keep it. His contract runs for another 12 months and he is out to prove he deserves another shot.
“Yeah, it’s been tough. I won’t lie to you,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview. “The manager is the boss and he picks the team. Whether I agree with that, well, at the time I probably didn’t. I had played ten games and kept six clean sheets. I thought I’d done well in those games. At the end of the day, he is the manager and he picks the team so there’s nothing you can do.
“You can go and knock on his door, talk to him, but it’s his decision and you have to respect it. All you can do is your utmost to get back in the team.
“I made a couple of good saves in that Motherwell game. It was frustrating. We had concentrated through the whole game, we were looking at a 1-1 draw at a tough place to go. Then one slip and one drop in concentration and you have pie on your face. It’s not nice. Nine times out of ten, when a keeper makes an error it causes a goal. I wanted the next game to show I could take it on the chin and go again but I have to accept the manager’s decision and move on.
“It wasn’t a nice feeling at the time because no-one wants to make errors. It’s part and parcel of the game. I’ve made errors before in matches and got on with it. I’m big enough and old enough to deal with it. I was disappointed I didn’t play the next game to try and get it out of the way. My next first-team game has been a long time coming but I really enjoyed Friday night.
“I do believe I can be No.1. I wanted to come here to play every game. I knew Bobby [Zlamal] would probably be No.1 to start with because he signed before me. I came quite late in pre-season but I still believe I’m good enough to get in the team and stay there.”
The mantra he conveys is never to accept where you are if you feel you can do better. Which is why Zlamal will continue to be under pressure from his deputy. Regardless who stands between the sticks in Hearts’ final league game of the season away at Celtic on Sunday, Doyle knows Zlamal is firm favourite to start the Scottish Cup final against the same opponents six days later.
Pre-season will be another chance to maintain the quest. “Of course you do. You can’t give up. You can’t accept just being a No.2,” he stressed. “You have to prepare right because you just never know. Being a goalkeeper is different to an outfield player, who could come on after 60 minutes. Normally, the only way a keeper comes on as a sub is through an injury or a sending off. You have to train well and stay as sharp as you can.
“Bobby might play this weekend and go down after two minutes. You just never know in football. When you get your opportunity, you have to take it.
“The manager didn’t have to give me an opportunity against Aberdeen. Since Bobby has come back into the team he has done well. Only one of us can play. Bobby will more than likely be back in this week and for the final as well. We just have to wait and see.”
The long wait for a first-team return meant Doyle didn’t take to the field at Pittodrie replaying the final seconds of his previous first-team outing.
“It didn’t prey on my mind. If you go into a game thinking about errors, you’re probably more likely to make another one. I just blanked it out,” he explained. “The Motherwell game was a long time ago. I’ve played a couple of reserve games since then and kept myself fit. Once you get your first touch you grow in confidence. I made my debut at Pittodrie last time we played there and the first thing I did was pick the ball out of the net.
“It was nice to get a game. I got told on Wednesday that I was playing. The gaffer had mentioned he was making a few changes. At first I thought I might need to wait until this week but it was good to get back in. It was a disappointing result but I was happy getting 90 minutes.”