Jake Mulraney handed Hearts No.11 shirt: ‘It’s a big thing’
It’s just a number, of course, but Hearts moving Jake Mulraney from 23 to 11 in their squad list for this season is fairly significant. It is reward for the winger’s steady improvement throughout his first year at Tynecastle Park.
Mulraney studied the likes of Ronaldinho and his fellow Irishman Damien Duff while growing up. He now has the chance to become a memorable No.11 in his own right and realise the potential which prompted Craig Levein to sign him from Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
If stepping back into the Ladbrokes Premiership initially intimidated him 12 months ago, he grew into the top flight steadily as the campaign wore on. He finished as first choice on Hearts’ left flank and enjoyed what was the most intense period of his career.
Receiving the No.11 shirt is confirmation of the progress made by a player many forget is still only 23. “It is a big thing. I don’t look into it too much but a lot of people have been saying that as well. It’s obviously a good thing if that gaffer gives it to you,” said Mulraney.
“I really liked Ronaldinho when he played on the wing. I also liked Damian Duff with Ireland and Chelsea. I like those kinds of players with that style – quick and exciting wingers who run and dribble.”
He is one himself, if not quite in the same bracket. This week, Mulraney gets the chance to demonstrate how his game has developed in front of close friends and family. Hearts head to Dublin this morning and face Shelbourne tonight at Tolka Park, where Mulraney expects to see some well-known faces.
“I’ve had a few people text me. A few pals keep an eye on what I’m doing,” explained the player, who grew up in the city’s Drimnagh district. “There could be quite a few friends and family coming to watch. A few of my family wanted to come to watch me play and haven’t yet, so it would be nice if they come and see us.
“I came over to the mainland really young. I started going for trials at 12 and made my mind up at 13, then left at 15. Family watch my games on telly but it’s not like being there in person, you know?”
He has just returned from the Irish capital having spent the close season there catching up with family members. This trip is considerably more serious. Tonight’s friendly with Shelbourne precedes Saturday’s against Glenavon in Northern Ireland.
Mulraney ended last season tired after a run of league games against Scotland’s top teams and then a Scottish Cup final. Batteries recharged, he is ready to continue his own personal prosperity.
“It took me a while to settle in. I’ve played in this league before so I knew what I was coming in to in terms of standard.
“I felt I matured a bit last year in the run of games I had.
“I was doing things I’d never have thought of doing a few months before. People have mentioned it to me and that opens your eyes to it. You realise you are actually doing these things and they are coming naturally.
“Our last eight games were against top-six teams. The last two were against Celtic, where you’re covering 13 and 14 kilometres in both games. It’s quite intense.
“I played a lot of games towards the end of the season and I was feeling it a bit. Even when I went home, I was really tired and drained. You know when your body tells you that you need a rest.”
Hearts’ new signings Conor Washington, Jamie Walker and Craig Halkett will all travel to Ireland as they integrate themselves among new team-mates.
“It will be good for the new boys because we will be with each other 24/7 in the hotel for a week straight,” said Mulraney. “It’s good for everyone to get to know each other. I’ve experienced it myself, joining new teams and staying over. It can be hard but the group here make the new boys feel welcome.”