AMID all the ecstatic celebrations at Hampden, and even while clutching his Scottish Cup medal, Jamie Hamill admits he didn’t feel like a winner that day back in May.
The 26-year-old had to watch the hammering of Hibs from the sidelines after suffering a freak injury that has ruled him out for the last five months. The player ruptured the cruciate ligament in his knee during a training session and is not expected to return to the first team until around the turn of the year.
Since sustaining the injury in April, Hamill missed out on one of the most successful finishes to a season that the Tynecastle side has enjoyed for a number of years, plus the glamour Europa League two-legged play-off with Liverpool also passing him by.
But far from allowing himself to wallow in self-pity, he insisted today that his long-term lay-off has instead left him with a real desire to make up for lost time. In fact, Hamill reckons that he is hungrier than ever for success and said: “It’s been really difficult for sit on the sidelines and just watch the team. People keep saying to me ‘at least you won the Scottish Cup’ but to me I haven’t. All I really got out of the final was a good day, really.
“As far as I am concerned I was just a supporter that day and it was great to see the boys get the job done. I feel like I have missed out on a lot and that has given me the fire inside my belly. I can’t wait to get back playing football again to make up for everything that I have missed.”
Although he is building up the amount and extent of training that he can do and has reached the running stage, he won’t feel part of the Tynecastle set-up again until he can declare himself fit for selection for the first team.
He added: “You do feel like you’re not really part of things when you’re out injured for a long period of time, but all of the boys have been really good. We have a laugh and they get you through it, but I won’t feel part of it again until I am back and playing regular football again.
“It’s okay going along to things and the club saying to you to come along and get involved with this or that, but I would rather be playing football, that’s my job at the end of the day.
“You’re involved, but you’re not really, if you know what I mean.
“Having said that, I enjoy doing what I do for a living and I know that I am lucky but I would much rather be training for real and playing in games.
“It’s been so frustrating. I have always been the type of guy who just tries to crack on and play through a wee niggle, get through as many games as I can. With this you have got to take your time and I know that there is no point in trying to rush it.
“I would rather do it properly, make sure that I am recovered and then take it from there, rather than pushing myself on, coming back a few weeks early and then finding out that I am not quite ready.”
Hamill sustained the injury on the training ground, turning to take a shot and hearing an ominous popping sound from his knee with no-one within a couple of yards of him.
“When I first did it, the noise that I got from my knee was horrible, it really didn’t sound too good,” he continued.
“There was no-one near me, I just took the touch inside and went to take a shot and my knee just buckled. It was a horrible pain, although it only lasted for maybe 40 seconds.
“When I saw the tests the physios were doing though I just knew that it wasn’t looking good for me. I spoke to a few people who had done their cruciate and although they knew what it was, they didn’t want to say anything to me and just told me to keep my head down and wait until the scans came back.
“I was trying to stay positive but when we got the results back it wasn’t great. There’s nothing you can do though, apart from just get on with it.”
As far as a return to the first team goes, Hamill expects to be there or thereabouts by the time Christmas comes around.
“I have broken the back of it now and hopefully that is me halfway there or just over halfway. I feel that I am getting stronger every single week.
“The good thing is that I have got my family and my kids, they’re a great distraction and something to take my mind off of things and I do enjoy still coming to the matches to support the boys.
“Hopefully the results will pick up. I think we’ve been doing really well in games, just not getting maybe the wee break that we have needed here or there.
“We’ll just keep our fingers crossed that the Dundee United game this weekend can put a smile back on our faces.”
The road to recovery has already been a long one for the 26-year-old however now that he is over the halfway point the player can at least begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
He said: “I have been working hard over the summer and I’ve got great respect for the physios who have come in every day while the rest of the boys have been on holiday, getting myself towards coming back and playing football again.
“I’m at the running stage now but it has obviously taken me a while to get there. When I had my operation I just thought that I was never going to get there but each month – in fact each week, or each day – you see that wee bit of improvement and it keeps you going.
“There is still a long haul ahead of me though but hopefully I will be back playing before Christmas.”
When he first suffered the injury, then-manager Paulo Sergio revealed that Hamill was one of the first in for training, the last to leave and a player you could count on to turn up for every session.
And Hamill admits that, as well as being a physical battle to get back to full fitness, it has also been difficult mentally to come in to training each day and work away from the rest of the boys. However, recently he has had Mark Ridgers for company, the goalkeeper having suffered knee ligament damage while on Scotland under-21 duty and Hamill continued: “It’s not great to see faces on the injury table, but it has been good for me to have some company and someone who can push you along, have a wee chat and make your day go that bit quicker.
“Mark and I have helped each other out a bit but it has been difficult recently when the rest of the boys have had a day or two off because of the internationals because we’re still coming in and working away.
“It’s obviously the right thing to do although at the time you have a wee moan here and there. It has worked for me so far and I will do everything that I have to.”