Veteran goalkeeper Paul Gallacher has declared himself ready for action if he is required in Hearts’ Europa League qualifier against FC Infonet.
The 36-year-old has been brought in predominantly as goalkeeping coach but is also registered to play. Gallacher is likely to end up as Hearts’ third-choice keeper once they sign someone to compete with Jack Hamilton for the No.1 jersey, but he will be on the bench for the first qualifying round against the Estonians as the deadline for registering players has now passed.
The former Dundee United and Dunfermline stopper played only one competitive game for previous club Partick Thistle in the last 15 months and hasn’t featured in any of Hearts’ two closed-doors friendlies in St Andrews this week. Despite his lack of action, he insists he remains fit enough to shine if he is called upon in either of the two legs against Infonet.
When asked if he expected to be in the squad for next Thursday’s home leg against the Estonians, he joked: “I better be! It’s great to be involved at any level, but to be involved in a European tie at Tynecastle would be incredible.
“I never said I’d go to a club and be first-choice keeper. I’m under no illusions. It’s becoming a young man’s game, particularly in Scotland, but I still feel I have something to offer. Just to have the opportunity if required, I’ll be fit and ready.”
Although he still has a natural urge to play, Gallacher knows his main task is to ensure other goalkeepers at Tynecastle are in prime condition. Hamilton has been told he will have the chance to establish himself as No.1, although the club are monitoring two trialist goalkeepers at their St Andrews base. Swede Viktor Noring, 25, and 29-year-old Israeli Danny Amos played one half each of yesterday’s friendly defeat by Aberdeen in Fife as Hearts look to bring in someone to challenge the Scotland Under-21 internationalist for the gloves. Unlike Neil Alexander, his predecessor as player/goalkeeping coach, Gallacher won’t be heavily relied upon in a playing capacity.
“My role is mainly coaching but I want to still be available to play,” he said. “It’s not just the first-team goalkeepers I’ll be working with, it’s the under-20s and the academy stuff. Coaching is my ultimate aim but the balance of that and playing is fantastic. My last season at Partick was predominately coaching and I was third-choice goalkeeper. That was fine but I kept myself fit. I managed one game and thought I did well, but I found myself on the sidelines again when Ryan Scully came back in. Tomas Cerny did fantastically well too.”
After just a week of working closely with Hamilton, Gallacher can already see why Hearts have decided to place their faith in the 22-year-old, who was called into the Scotland squad for the recent friendlies against France and Italy.
“He’s a very good goalkeeper,” said Gallacher. “He has his moments where he can be a bit daft, but on the training pitch he’s fully focused on the job in hand and is very professional and hard working. I have heard a lot of things about him for a while and he’s matured a lot towards the end of last season as he got some game time. Going away with Scotland and working with Jim Stewart and those other goalkeepers in the squad has helped him no end.
“Mixing with guys in the Scotland squad is a whole new level. He’s come back with loads of stories about the way the boys strike the ball, take corners, the pace. Everything is at a higher level. You will come across that at European level so it will stand him in good stead.
“Hearts are a massive club. We can go out and bring in an experienced goalkeeper but we want to promote from within. He deserves his chance. He’s done great for me so far. He’s raring to go and is getting his fitness topped up. We have no qualms about putting him in.”
Gallacher, a former Dunfermline team-mate of Hearts assistant Stevie Crawford, was relieved to land a two-year deal after fretting over his next move following his departure from Thistle, who couldn’t afford to keep him on solely as a goalkeeping coach.
“Towards the end of the season, everyone at Thistle knew their situation, whether they were being kept on or let go,” he explained.
“But come the last game I still didn’t know. I’m not one to chap doors but I needed to know what was happening. It’s my career, my future. The gaffer [Alan Archibald] spoke to me and said he was a bit embarrassed by the offer he was having to make me. I knew it would go down because it was just coaching but it was a drastic wage cut that was hard to take. The gaffer was honest and said that’s all he could offer. I wasn’t going to be doing anything on the academy side, but I think it’s important to be involved right down to the grassroots. I thanked him for the job they gave me, but unfortunately it was time to move on. When Robbie Neilson phoned me, it was amazing. Even getting the chance to speak to him and sell myself was great. It’s worked out well. I don’t have the words to express how thankful I am to be here.”