Less than three months ago, Marcus Godinho was playing a League Two match for Berwick Rangers away to Stirling Albion, without a Hearts first-team appearance to his name, fourth or fifth in the pecking order for a right-back berth at his parent club and unsure if he’d have a contract beyond the end of this season.
Having started 2018 seemingly some way from the first-team picture at Tynecastle, he ends the month of March with his confidence significantly enhanced by earning a new deal until summer 2020 and having followed up three successive starts for Hearts by making his full Canada debut against New Zealand in Spain last weekend. The 20-year-old Toronto boy is riding the crest of a wave.
“It’s been crazy – I still can’t get my head round it,” he told the Evening News. “Everything’s happened really quick. The way I look at it is that all my hard work behind the scenes is finally paying off. I’m just really excited – I can’t wait to see what’s coming my way in the future.”
As his loan deal at Berwick was drawing to a close in mid-season, Godinho anticipated that he would be spending the second half of the campaign on loan at another Scottish club. He has capitalised emphatically on an unexpected chance to go away with Craig Levein’s first team to their winter training camp in Spain in January.
“After Berwick, I initially thought I’d probably go on loan to a team in the Championship and if I did well there, I’d maybe get an opportunity next season,” he said. “It was a bit surprising to get my chance so soon at Hearts but at the same time I know the manager believes in me. I got the opportunity to play in Spain and from there I feel like I’ve been doing better and better in training. I was also doing well in under-20s games so I felt, with the way I was progressing, that my opportunity was coming.”
Godinho’s big chance came four weeks ago when he was pitched in to the starting line-up for the Scottish Cup quarter-final tie away to Motherwell. Even though Hearts lost 2-1, the Canuck kept his place for the subsequent matches against Hibs and Partick Thistle. He is expected to start against Dundee at Dens Park on Sunday. “I feel from a confidence perspective I’m getting better with each game,” he said. “In the Partick game I started well but didn’t have a great second half. It was a pretty comfortable game, though, so it was a bit different to the other two. I feel like I’ll continue to progress the more I play. I’m really starting to believe in myself and feeling really confident on the pitch. I just want to keep my spot in the team and keep getting more opportunities to play. I’ll just keep doing my best when I’m in there and hopefully I can keep the spot for next season. It was a big boost to get the new contract. It’s good to have that security for next season. I was really happy about it and I think that’s helped my confidence as well.”
Spending last week in Murcia with his national team after an unexpected call-up, and then making his debut as a substitute on Saturday, has left Godinho in buoyant mood. “I found out a few days after the Motherwell game that I’d be getting called up,” he said. “Initially they had said I wouldn’t be involved so it came as quite a shock. I think they made the decision to call me up after seeing that I’d played in the Motherwell game. They were needing a right-back so I think it just worked out well timing-wise. It’s unusual to get called up after just one first-team game but I think they were looking to bring in a few young boys to see how we’re getting on because there were a couple of others my age and younger. I think they are looking to integrate young players to the squad with a view to the future.
“It went really well. I was really excited for it. I did well. I trained well during the week and they let me know in advance that I’d get on at half-time. I was really excited about that because it was my dream to play for Canada. I actually got on towards the end of the first half because the right-back was struggling and I had a good game. My family weren’t able to get to the game because there wasn’t enough time to get them over in terms of their work and things like that, but they’ll come to the next one if I get called back in. It just makes me want to push even harder at Hearts to make sure I’m in the next squad because the experience was amazing. There’s nothing better than playing for your country.”
Despite his rapid ascent to prominence over the past month, Godinho knows he can’t taking things for granted. His chance has arisen due to a combination of his own good form, Connor Randall and Michael Smith being required to deputise in other positions, Jamie Brandon’s injury and Liam Smith being out on loan at St Mirren. The Canadian knows all four of his fellow right-backs will be pressing him for his position sooner or later.
“It’s massive that I take this opportunity because there are so many other right-backs at Hearts,” he said. “The other three have been brilliant, plus there’s Liam out on loan, so I’ve been lucky to get my opportunity. Now that I’ve got it I’m determined not to let it slide. This is a chance to show how good I am. I’ve just got to make sure I keep working hard, stay in the team and keep progressing and get the opportunity to play more.”