If patience does indeed pay off, Gavin Reilly is due a mammoth dividend. Months on the Hearts substitutes’ bench have required composure, restraint and humility from the young striker. Now he wants his chance.
Reilly arrived at Tynecastle from Queen of the South in June but has started only four matches to date. He can expect promotion from the bench to the starting line-up at some stage over the festive period, but it remains to be seen whether he features against Celtic tomorrow.
Juanma Delgado’s suspension creates a void in attack, although head coach Robbie Neilson may deploy Osman Sow as a lone forward against the Scottish Premiership champions.
If so, he won’t hear Reilly in his ear complaining. The 22-year-old has been the epitome of respect and dignity since signing a three-year contract to step up from Championship to Premiership. That doesn’t mean he isn’t eager to prove his worth.
Reilly has spent six months adapting to a new city, new team-mates, a higher level of football and, most recently, new surroundings after buying his first flat. Now, finally, he feels settled and ready to show Hearts supporters why he was signed.
He is asked whether the wait has been difficult. “Definitely, but I’ve just got to keep waiting,” he told the Evening News. “There’s no point chucking the toys out of the pram. I’m here for three years so I’m prepared to be patient, but I feel I’m ready to take my chance when it comes. When I’m given that chance, hopefully I’ll do that.
“I feel I’m ready now. I started a couple of games at the start of the season and then it all went quiet a wee bit. I got myself sent off [against Kilmarnock in October], which I had to deal with, and it’s stayed quiet. I’ve been working away behind the scenes and I feel that now, if I was given the chance, I’m ready.
“You’ve got to keep working away and have confidence in your own ability, come into training and do well. If I’m playing in under-20 games, I need to try and put in good performances there. I just need to believe in my own ability. If the gaffer gives me the nod, he must have confidence in me. Hopefully I can repay that.
“It’s all a work in progress. Robbie said before I signed in would be a gradual process. I wasn’t going to come in and play every game. I’ve taken time to bed myself in but that’s five or six months now and I feel I’m ready.”
For all his good intentions, he didn’t join Hearts to stand out in the Development League with the under-20 side. He came north from his native Dumfries for precisely the kind of match taking place at Tynecastle tomorrow afternoon.
“I played in the Ramsdens Cup final when I was at Queens but this is right up there,” he said of Celtic’s visit. “It’s the festive period, we’ve been told it’s a full house and it’s sold out.
“It’s a massive game for ourselves and Celtic as well. They’re under a wee bit of pressure but we’re not bothered about them, we’re just focusing on ourselves.
“I had a couple of cup ties at Queen of the South but this is in the league. You play Celtic four times a season and it’s just a such a big occasion. I’ve not heard anything yet about whether I’ll play or now. I’ve just been coming into training and doing the best I can. If I’m given the call, I’ll be ready for it.”
If patience is a virtue, impatience can be destructive. “You can’t be itching for it. It’s like a striker trying to take a chance and snatching at it. You’ve just got to be relaxed. I can’t really go and speak to him [Neilson], when the other strikers have been performing but, because Juanma’s suspended, there’s a gap in the team sheet. If I get the call tomorrow, I’ll be delighted and I’ll be out to put in a performance. If not, I’ll just bide my time and see what happens.
“We’ve got a busy Christmas schedule with three games in a week. The gaffer might want to rotate things to keep boys fresh so hopefully I can get a chance in these three games.”
One thing Reilly offers is a different approach to that of both Sow and Juanma. His pace and penalty-box instinct may appeal to Neilson if he decides his team needs freshening up over the next week or so.
Hearts face Celtic tomorrow and Dundee United on Wednesday, both at home, before travelling to Kilmarnock for their first match of 2016 next Saturday.
“The three of us are all different types of striker,” said Reilly. “Osman and Juanma are bigger types, whereas I’m smaller and I look to run in behind more than they do. It’s good that the gaffer’s got so many different options to be able to mix things up.
“There’s a lot of hype around this game tomorrow and the fans will want us to do well but on the park you have to focus on your own game and do your job.”
Off the field, Reilly’s life has changed completely in the space of just a few months. While taking time to settle in at Riccarton, he has been busy setting up home in Edinburgh.
Just six months ago he was living with his parents as a promising youngster at Queen of the South, but tomorrow could see him involved in Scotland’s biggest match of the festive period.
“Everything is taking shape now,” he smiled. “I was living with my sister since the summer and it was great that she let me stay as it allowed me to find my feet here.
“It was the right time for me to leave Queen of the South and move on and to move out because I’m 22 now, I’m not a kid any more.
“I was coming home and not having my own space. I would sit and have dinner with my sister and her boyfriend but they’ve probably got other things on their mind, maybe wanting to raise a family. Now I’m in my own place, I can relax and do my own thing.
“It’s nice to be settled in my own home now. I’ve properly flown the nest and I’m fending for myself. I still feel like a big kid when it’s Christmas time, though.”
He’ll be properly hyper if Neilson reads out his name amongst the starting line-up tomorrow. If not, there won’t be any tantrums at not getting what he wants. It simply isn’t Reilly’s style.