Aaron McEneff explains why he is dedicated to Hearts despite sub role

Irony played a significant part in Hearts’ progress to the Scottish Cup semi-finals. Had everyone been fit for Saturday night’s quarter-final against St Mirren, the main character may not even have taken part.

Midfielder Aaron McEneff was the talismanic substitute who swung the game in the Edinburgh club’s favour. He seized his moment perfectly but, in truth, might have been left on the bench if manager Robbie Neilson had a full squad to call upon.

The score sat level at 2-2 when McEneff replaced Ben Woodburn on 67 minutes. Within seconds he put Hearts 3-2 ahead, then crossed for Ellis Simms to complete a 4-2 win in an enthralling cup tie.

It would be fair to say the Irishman benefitted from injuries to other midfielders like Gary Mackay-Steven and Cammy Devlin. His introduction was the catalyst for Hearts to regain control after surrendering a 2-0 lead.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MARCH 12: Hearts' Aaron McEneff celebrates making it 3-2 with Andy Halliday during a Scottish Cup match between Hearts and St. Mirren at Tynecastle, on March 12, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

“Obviously I’ve come on on the right,” said McEneff. “We work on getting into pockets when the centre backs are on the ball. I made a double movement, Halks has played the ball and I’ve sort of followed the pass into the box and the ball has just hit off my knee and gone in the net.

“It’s just one of those things. What a feeling. You’re on the pitch and you’ve scored. I’m just glad I could help the team get through to the semi-finals.

“I honestly don’t know if I meant it, I’d need to watch it back to see if I adjusted my body or anything, but from what I remember it’s hit my knee while I’m on my stride and gone in. I couldn’t believe it.

“I scored after a minute or two for Shamrock Rovers, that was a cup semi-final too. Not like that though. The manager just said to be positive and get on the ball. Go try and effect the game, but the last thing he said was just go and enjoy it.

“When I do get on the pitch I do try effect the game, I like scoring goals. It doesn’t matter how they go again, as long as they do.”

Hearts were 2-0 ahead through Beni Baningime and Peter Haring but Eamonn Brophy’s goal halved the deficit for St Mirren before half-time. Connor Ronan’s outrageous 30-yard equaliser had the sizeable travelling support dreaming of cup progress at Tynecastle until McEneff intervened.

It’s the third time this season he has executed the role of goalscoring substitute. Some fans feel he deserves more game time and Neilson admitted as much.

“All I can do is keep my head down and work hard in training,” said the player. “The boys have done well all year. I’ve said loads of times before that when I’m called upon then I’ll try my best to make sure I’m ready.”

With a Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden to come next month, there is plenty incentive. “It’s obviously a massive game. I’ll continue to train well and give myself the best chance.”

Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; Atkinson, Halkett, Kingsley, Halliday; Baningime, Haring; Woodburn (McEneff 67), Boyce, McKay (Sibbick 90); Simms.

St Mirren (4-2-3-1): Alnwick; Tait, Shaughnessy, Dunne, Tanser (Fraser 53); Power, Gogic (Grieve 75); Ronan, Kiltie (Henderson 75), Jones; Brophy.

Referee: Bobby Madden.

Attendance: 13,899.

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