Republic of Ireland watching Hearts' Aaron McEneff as he closes in on second league title in months
Joining Hearts propelled the midfielder into a critical mid-season point in Scotland after winning the League of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers in November. He is grateful for the chance to help the Edinburgh club’s quest for automatic promotion from the Championship.
That remains his priority but if, in the process, he can again capture the attention of Republic of Ireland coach Stephen Kenny, so much the better. McEneff was called up for the first time in November and was told by Kenny he would be watched after moving to Scotland in January.
World Cup 2022 qualifiers start this month and the 25-year-old knows Kenny will name his squad in the coming days. It is all a far cry from where he was expecting to be – finishing pre-season preparations with Shamrock.
“I was involved in the last Ireland squad and you always keep an eye out for it. If that came up it would be great. All I can do is concentrate on my football at Hearts and try to make a positive impact in the team,” he said.
“We need to keep trying to get three points every weekend. There's no denying our goal is to win the league so that's where my focus is at the minute. If a call-up comes up, that would be massive bonus.
“Stephen Kenny texted me just as I signed here. He wished me best of luck with the move and said he would be monitoring my progress. That's the last I heard from him.
“I'm sure they've got people watching the games and we have played a few matches on TV. You're putting yourself in the shop window as long as you're playing. All you can do is try your best for your team. Anything that comes off the back of that is a bonus.”
It would be fair to say McEneff’s dynamic approach and attacking intent have stood out in four appearances since he arrived at Tynecastle Park. He still feels there is room to improve, though.
“I’ve got two starts now, I feel like my overall match fitness is improving week-on-week and I feel a lot stronger,” he explained. “The teams we have faced play quite direct and they like to go forward to the striker early, with runners off the striker.
“You don’t get much time on the ball, there’s a high press from most teams and players are looking to get in about you and win the ball back. That’s exactly what I expected. I’ve watched a lot of Scottish football over the years and knew what I was coming in to.
“That’s been exciting for me and getting those two starts has been really positive for me because I’m supposed to be in pre-season. I would have been doing pre-season back home, so getting minutes into the legs has been good for me and I feel like I’m getting stronger every week.
“I’ve made a positive enough impact coming off the bench. Then against Morton in my first start at home I felt like I had a good 60 minutes, getting on the ball, and I should have scored.
“I maybe died out a little in that game, just due to a lack of match fitness but then against Inverness I felt a lot stronger and wasn’t tired at all for the whole 90. I was back to my old self. I’d like to get my name on the scoresheet and create a few goals for the team.”
Off the field, he is feeling more settled in Scotland’s capital. He and partner Ellen have moved into their own apartment after the player spent three weeks in a hotel at Hearts’ Riccarton training campus.
“The Scottish Rugby boys were in there as well. Other than them, I just saw myself and two of the other lads who signed. They arrived before me so they got out of the hotel quite quickly,” said McEneff.
“As you can imagine, going back from training to a hotel room every day wasn't ideal. That's the situation and we are in a good position compared to a lot of people in the world so I'm not going to complain about it too much.
“I went plenty of walks, cooking, TV, Playstation, simple stuff like that. Your daily life changes and you can't even go down for a coffee. As I said, there's a lot more going on in the world for us to be crying about not going for a coffee or a meal.”
Hearts host Dundee this afternoon seeking to increase their lead at the top of the Championship to 15 points. They are unbeaten in six games but the last three have all been 1-1 draws against Queen of the South, Morton and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“You could say it has been frustrating,” admitted McEneff. “We know it has been three draws in a row and, although we’ve had chances in those games to possibly win, we’re giving chances away. We’ve analysed that ourselves over a number of weeks and we can only put that right.
“The boys are doing well and have done well all season, picking up a lot of wins, and when you miss chances and draw games fans will get frustrated. That is what you get at a big club. Us, as players, get frustrated as well. We all want to be winning football matches.
“We’ve got a chance to put that right on Saturday after a good week’s training and we’ll be prepared.”